The golden issue of Alpinist (number 50), has several solid pieces but one article has been in my head for the past several weeks. David Pickford writes about what are we seeking as climbers in “The Heart of Nature.” He looks back not too long ago to how climbing was before we needed video and tweets to share what we did. He subtly (and not so subtly) attacks millennial climbers for their narcissism, but not before offering a way out:
Out there in cyberspace, there are tens of thousands of two-minute video-blogs of teenagers climbing hard problems to a tech-house soundtrack. The thing is, most of the “stories” just aren’t that interesting. But the tale of the unknown girl or guy who quietly solos a remote line miles from a road, leaving only fleeting trails of chalk on stone or axe and crampon marks on ice — now that’s an interesting story. This plot has all the key elements for a great narrative: mystery, uncertainty, enigma, suspense. But then, of course, it probably won’t get told. And maybe it’s better that way. Does the telling of a story dilute how true it is? Does it change what it means?
For those of us who’ve had a Facebook or Twitter account for several years there was a time when it was novel and we shared everything we did, from waiting in line at the cafe, getting a phone call from a sibling, to complaining about utility bills. Now the pendulum is shifting and we’re being encouraged to share less and just live — in the moment — more.
However, the temptation remains: It’s easy to record, proclaim and post publicly. It’s even satisfying in some ways, but there is something to be said about when you’re self-promoting and when someone else notices. Call it modesty, but doing something because you want to do it is important. To do it with commitment and excellence says even more. This is especially true when no one is looking and you’re not promoting it yourself.
Is Climbing Public or Private?
There was no where for me to share my climbing experiences when I was growing up in the 90s. And it never occurred to me. I didn’t talk about my… er, whatever it was I was doing. I called it rock climbing practice to myself. I didn’t know enough to call it bouldering. But I didn’t even want to talk about it. It was mysterious. It was something I was exploring, and it wasn’t the boulder.
I was 12 years old when I accidentally discovered bouldering. I truly didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to rock climb. I only saw Captain Kirk attempt to free climb El Capitan in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. And Kirk fell. There were bigger cliffs than those boulders in my area of the ‘Dacks (much bigger), but these were right here and they felt like mine.
What was going on in my head made was what was important. I held on to the smallest nubs and pinched what was best described as mere texture. As I grew bolder, I went higher. Thoughts of “how do I get down” came in a rush near panic-mode. But through the veil of fear you realize that there is a peace if only you have the courage to open it like a curtain.
How do you share that? And in some ways, why would you want to?
Other climbers write about this in various ways. Even Reinold Messner often says the experience of the climb made him understand himself, though he never said what it was he saw and understood. (Knowing a little about Messner, he liked how ballsy he looked to himself in that situation. And heck, he was!)
None of this can be projected through a Tweet or a video.
What Are You Seeking?
I think some of us climb to validate ourselves. Or maybe encourage our self-being. Climbing certainly clears any fog in our head about what’s important to us.
But I recently discovered the joy of climbing in a large group or even among a crowd. There was definitely never crowd in the Adirondacks, which was perfect for an introvert-inclined person like me. Climbing at the indoor gym can be just as social as it is physically challenging. But the output is different than the goal and the overall experience compared to climbing at an outdoor crag or a backcountry route. Sharing it over social media is a different level than sharing it with your immediate company, or just basking in the moment itself.
A local publication around the south, including the Washington, DC region, Blue Ridge Outdoors, recently had an article by Jess Daddio called “Turn it Off: How Social Media is Changing The Way We Play, Or is It?” Daddio talks about going on an epic whitewater kayaking trip and forgetting his GoPro. The fundamental question Daddio ponders, was, if you kayaked it (or climbed it), and no one was there to see it, did it matter and who did it matter to?
What you seek out of the experience should be our guide. Sharing on social media has it’s place, but I think too often it distracts or overwhelms our ability to get at something more, like character development. If you’re seeking lasting accomplishment and respect, social media may not be necessary. Rather, be true to your real purpose. Seek excellence. Test your character. The cumulative effort of working on one’s own experience will yield far better results. It might even make you a mountain man or woman some else wants to share with others.
A little bit of mystery develops the legend.