Two Kinds of Armchair Mountaineers


Flip open an old AAJ and draw. (All rights reserved)

The term armchair quarterback refers to a know-it-all with no real-world experience. They’re critics; quick to assess and lay judgment.

The term armchair mountaineer can be applied the same way sometimes, but I think we need to draw a distinction. Armchair mountaineers in this context have never climbed (or have on a very limited basis), think they know enough about it to render a judgment — most often criticizing other climbers and climbing events.

Whenever a disaster happens on Everest, or recently the deadly avalanches in the Alps or in Nepal, there is someone there to claim they “get it.” Then they claim that we ought not be climbing at all or why more regulation is required.

I take a different approach and use the term armchair mountaineer quite differently. In fact, the differences have made me consider dropping the term’s use altogether. When I say I spend a lot of my time “armchair mountaineering,” I mean I am reading and researching climbing history and current trends. The image that ought to come to mind is someone like me, sitting by a fireplace with a book (or several) with a map laid out on the ottoman while sipping a cup of freshly ground coffee or a beer from Otter Creek (in a glass, rarely the bottle.)

I trying not to lay judgment. I’m genuinely interested in mountaineering — in the achievements reached in the mountains. I also try to defend the sport. There are too many aspects worth celebrating to get down and discouraging.

(By the way, I’ve been taking a new look at Fitz Roy in Patagonia and will be talking about that shortly. Also, I just received in the mail Mark Synnott’s climbing and skiing guide to Baffin Island (Patagonia North, in some ways) and I look forward to drawing from that to share some thoughts on this season’s alpine accomplishment’s on Canada’s largest island. Let me know if you have any ideas for topics. I always enjoy your feedback too.)

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2 thoughts on “Two Kinds of Armchair Mountaineers

  1. I have to say, everytime I read your blog it reminds me of myself. I’m certainly no accomplished climber, but I am fascinated by the history and current accomplishments of today’s climbers. I could never judge because I can never do what these men and women do on the mountains, but I am in awe of them everytime I read a new story of life on the mountains. Favorite after work pasttime for me is not watching baseball or football, but sitting down with a beer or coffee and diving into an old Alpine Journal or mountaineering book I found at a used bookshop.

    This past year, I met a women who’s late husband was an avid climber in the 60s and 70s, with summits of peaks like the Matterhorn, and she has given me complete access to his climbing library–books and guides older than my parents! I may not be a climber, but my love for the sport and culture is just as strong, if not stronger, than that of my friends who have season tickets to their favorite sports teams.

    Thanks for such a great blog. I need to keep up with mine more.

  2. Those sound like some fantastic finds, Dan. Even if we aren’t out there climbing some new route, at least there are lot’s of great stories from those who have.

    By the way, there is a story in Alpinist 40 about a climber that is sure he’s made some FAs, but he hasn’t recorded them or published them to keep the pioneer spirit alive. I’m not sure that that is the right approach either, because of the ambiguity, but the dream remains alive.

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