The other day something really interesting happened during my commute to work in Peaklessburg. I actually came across someone reading a climbing book. Well, I thought that was pretty remarkable, at least.
The crowd around me during my ride to and from the city usually blends and blurs into the tracks, tunnels and sidewalks. I usually read my book or review white papers from work and mind little else. The passengers, including me, rarely interact with one another except to say excuse me unless you are travelling with a colleague or friend.
When I come out of my self-focus and raise my eyes to observe my neighbors, I usually see them with their smartphones, iPods, e-readers, Grisham novels, Wall Street Journals, business magazines and trade papers. I never see anyone with anything related to climbing. But then, suddenly, I did and I struck up a brief conversation about the book on the history of climbing in Yosemite.
For me, these chats are normally confined to the virtual world and the rare occasion I can attend my Section meeting of the American Alpine Club, so the face-to-face was invigorating. It made me really want to go to the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival next year.
Our talk was short so we only had time to mention important points, like how the routes developed, the gear Royal Robbins and Yvon Chouinard used and what people really meant by “dirtbag climbers.” While we had our preferred specialties (rock versus ice and alpine,) we were both sufficiently well read to hold a substantive conversation. After ten minutes, I passed my card for this blog and I got off at my stop.
This reinforced for me why mountaineering nonfiction matters. This includes literature, like Steve House’ Beyond the Mountain, to guidebooks, like Jonathan Waterman’s High Alaska, and the American Alpine Journal. These works are not only the stories about climbers like us or those that we admire and insight into climbing opportunities, they reinforce the platform of where climbing as a sport is today and help us advance what’s possible as well as give us a common language.
Climbing books allow us to see what has been done by others, stare at the possible and how the impossible later became possible often a combination of innovation, naivety, boldness or arrogance, knowledge and experience, and luck. The knowledge of other’s experiences of all of those factors can enable us to be inspired as well as connect with other climbers better.
Climbing is not truly a spectator sport and climbs are personal things. Their stories — written — give more insight than photos and film. What’s in our hearts and what binds us is captured on the routes we ascend and the stories we share.