Your Chance at Courage from Home

Mountains of mystery. (All rights reserved)

I like to work from home; jeans, no shoes, and a baseball cap all the time. I like to to see my wife and kids often; I don’t get tired of them. And if the reason I was at home were more like a snow or ice storm, while self-isolating at home, would have been a pretty nice week.

On the other hand, I’ve been home working longer days to run our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, We reluctantly made the very painful decision to furlough most of the staff because all non-essential businesses closed in Pennsylvania and even all residential construction (Habitat’s specialty) was ordered to stop. I’ve been busy handling financial options, considering the future’s permutations, and setting communications strategies that adapt.

Related, I also made a discovery about my eczema flair ups, thanks to my more efficient nutrition plan: One beer over several days won’t spur a flair up, but one beer every day for three days will! The stress of cost cutting probably egged it along. I won’t be having a beer a day any longer; it was probably a frivolous craving in this time regardless.

As comes with self-isolating, the kids are home with us all the time too, sometimes plodding through work from their teachers. I wonder if this is what homeschooling is like. Natalie and I are still figuring out how to juggle work and parenting. Both of our gyms closed, which affected Natalie more than me because she likes the sophisticated gym equipment and the amenities; I can’t blame her. I workout in the basement with just a yoga mat, a couple of free weights, and a hangboard; I put all my gym allowance to belong to a gym with ever changing puzzles arranged from plastic holds. And despite my general dislike for running, I am jogging more often, especially after weighty conference calls.

I paused from reading Found by Bree Loewen for a moment to get through a library book. I am reading a book on baseball, which I borrowed on my birthday, the day Major League Baseball announced that the season would be delayed. So it’s filling a void and a different escape. I’ll be back to Found later this week. Since I last posted I added two books to my list: 1) Troll Wall by Tony Howard (2011,) and 2) My Life in Climbing by Ueli Steck (2018.) Troll Wall was recommended to me by David Price and I am glad that he mentioned it. Steck’s autobiography is actually for a question that I have been pondering for over a year and instead of just diving in and writing about it, I am doing more research (and really looking forward to read it after I finish Loewen’s book.)

Soon I’ll get restless, I suppose. Normally, when we deal with crises or natural disasters, I am donating money or directing some of our gifts at Habitat to tsunami relief or a post-earthquake home build project in Nepal, and my kids make care packages. But this crisis asks us to be inactive, stay at home, and stay away. I never imagined or could have imagined this happening throughout America two weeks ago, even as I read the stories from Wuhan or Italy.

It’s also odd in that we are not looking to rebuild homes or defeat a moral enemy, like the Nazis. We’re dealing with existential challenges to our freedom and our ability to roam freely. I can wait a little longer to go to the gym and visit Mt. Gretna again. I can dash into a grocery story just to get what will feed my family of four. Heck, I don’t need beer or coffee like I used to. Maybe God was preparing Natalie and I for this? This takes a fortitude of a different kind, and it hasn’t gone long enough for me to know what it is supposed to look like.

Although I put on a strong face for my staff, board, family, and parents, I am pretty scared deep down about the short term. I don’t want to get sick and don’t want anyone to get sick. I don’t want to die and I don’t want anyone to die from this virus either. I pray daily (I always have) and have faith, but, like so many things, there is a lot out of our direct control. I am self-isolating with compliance but I miss the climbing gym, and getting in the car for fun destinations on the weekend, dropping into my favorite burrito shop, and hugging colleagues in greeting and slapping high fives when we solve a problem or help improve someone’s life.

I’ll keep doing what I always do, but from home instead, with a little more courage than usual. Stay safe and healthy, my friends.

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Two Unexpected Turns in 2019

Road trip. (All rights reserved)

It’s a foggy morning here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Christmas was snowless and warm and now the moist air is merging into the drier air. With everyone still asleep, instead of working on fundraising or project planning, like I have been lately, I wanted to share with you two changes before 2019 came to a close.

It’s been more than a year as the executive director at a large nonprofit in south central Pennsylvania with a team of about 20 and hundreds of volunteers. As always, my work has been split between work, family, and balancing those things through diet, fitness, reading, and maybe some writing. The time has been more crunched than ever as my vision for the organizations is taking shape. By contrast to previous Christmases, this was the first Natalie decided to skip involving me in the Christmas card process; she said I was noticeably busy and it was just easier. It’s saddened me to think it was easier to avoid my involvement as we always had, but she was right; I couldn’t take much more.

Over a year ago I started working out almost daily to make sure I was staying in shape and help relieve some stress from juggling whether I was taking time between staff, board members, donors, volunteers, public officials, or my wife or children. Having three events at the same time to commit to attending is a terrible thing, and playing king of the hill with one of them is always about picking winners and losers. Still, I like to consider the options, make my decision and let everyone know as quickly as possible, which could take a day or so.

I started dropping into the climbing gym by my home every couple of weeks. I tended to work out harder at home if I had a boulder problem I was focusing my energy toward training. And when I was bouldering, I wasn’t thinking about anything other than what was under my toes and fingertips, so it has always been a huge physical and mental break from the ordinary.

In November, Natalie and I decided to take a step further and for me to join the gym and go at least weekly if not more often. I’d never joined any gym before, even a nonclimbing one. I’ve set myself a reasonable goal, though not yet with a timetable, to boulder V6. This has definitely cut into some of my mornings and evenings, but I think I have been more enthusiastic about, well, everything.

The biggest change I had been attempting to make all year, but a prolonged illness, did what my willpower couldn’t do. Over the years, as a policy analyst and advocate in Washington, DC I had worked my way up to being a caffeine abuser. I’d tease about decaf by a sly “what’s the point?” quip. But I would read and summarize policy papers and make PowerPoint Presentations with gusto. As I started working out more, and eating more fruits and vegetables over the last year, I knew I was drinking too much. Six cups a day, often more, was too much. And yet, at the time, I thought, “Oh, coffee doesn’t affect me much.”

Before Thanksgiving I came down with a cough, which developed into a cold, and became a sinus infection that lasted over three weeks and took two antibiotics and Prednisone to shake. I drank a cup of coffee in the morning and that was it for the day; my throat just wasn’t having it.

By the end of the whole experience, I decided to use this as an opportunity and stop drinking coffee at one-and-a-half cups or two cups in the morning before I left the house. The results have surprised me: I was more alert throughout the day, and I wasn’t dry and anxious by the end of it. I used to attribute the anxious feeling to the stress of my jobs. On some days the feeling was so intense I would crave a beer or a glass of wine to relax. Since I cut back on the caffeine, I didn’t have the same interest in beer or wine; I think I just wanted a depressant to bring me down from the caffeinated high. Until then, I had no idea what a grip caffeine held on me. Everything has been brighter, easier, and more enjoyable ever since. Perhaps you don’t need your cup of coffee as much as you think you do?

I did read 17 books this year, which I think was the most I have read in 12 months in the recent couple of years. Most of them were not about climbing. I read all of Alpinist Magazine’s long-form essays and stories, which should be considered a collective book in and of itself.

For Christmas, our friends in London sent me The Alps: A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi and Beyond

“>The AlpsThe Alps: A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi and Beyond

“> by Stephen O’Shea (2017). The back cover reads, “For centuries the Alps have been witness to the march of armies, the flow of pilgrims and Crusaders, the feats of mountaineers, and the dreams of engineers… Journeying through their 500-mile arc across France, Italy, and Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia, [O’Shea] explores the reality behind historic events and reveals how the Alps have profoundly influenced culture and society.” It sounds like my kind of nonfiction. They told me that they’ll give me a pop quiz when they see me next. I’m okay with that and accept their challenge!

Click to buy your copy now and support TSM:

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PS… While I would never stop reading about climbing, writing about climbing and its literature and history isn’t free, so my posts contain affiliate links. Every purchase you make through those links supports The Suburban Mountaineer. So if the book or gear interested you, click the link and get it for yourself.

The Olympics: Today’s Hot Climbing Topic from Nonclimbers

City living. (All rights reserved)

These days when people learn I love climbing and have this blog, they inevitably say one of two things:

“Have you seen Free Solo?”

And,

“You must be thrilled that climbing is included in the Olympics now.”

In short, Yes, and, Eh.

Yes, I have seen Free Solo. The climb was incredible, but no, my hands didn’t sweat. Maybe because I wasn’t there filming it. I remember when social media exploded with the news Alex Honnold climbed El Capitan alone without a rope. I read about it a ton. It was spectacular. In fact, I even waited to watch the film until after I read Mark Synnott’s book. (I suspect I was the only person in the world to do this.) And I still liked Jimmy Chin’s Meru more.

And as for the Olympics, I am actually indifferent. I’ve never gotten excited about the summer Olympics and I don’t enjoy competition climbing. Although I climb indoors for fitness and center myself, comp climbing is its own discipline.

In fact, the Olympic comp climbing doesn’t fit into my scope: Here are my guidelines I follow (and regularly break for a rant:) Focus on the essence of the alpine experience, Draw on the power of the mountains, No Mount Everest, No sport or comp climbing.

I’ve heard that potential competitors aren’t pleased with the format. The Olympic Committee requires the 20 male climbers and 20 female climbers to compete in all three events, including lead climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing. All three events are unique, especially for the climbers. The training and preparation for each event is different. We’re all specialists, or at least we’re specialists at one discipline at a time. Speed climbers are usually just speed climbers and the lead climbers won’t be competitive at speed climbing. Either way, the winner will be the best overall. But even then, it’s not just comp climbing, but Olympic comp climbing.

TSM aside, I think the Olympic adoption of climbing events had plenty to do with the growth of climbing gyms worldwide. In Buffalo, where I grew up, I didn’t have a gym in the 1990s. I had to drive north to Niagara County for an odd climbing gym that only had preset knots in carabiners ready for a harness. Now, Buffalo has a large, upscale Central Rock Gym, like those in the greater Boston area. In fact, for a while, the climbing gym industry was seeing 40 new gyms a year being added across the country.

Climbing’s popularity has grown exponentially and fostered more competition events, coverage on mainstream television stations, and I suspect one day soon I will be buying Five Ten climbing shoes (now owned by Adidas, by the way) for my kids at Dicks Sporting Goods, or — gulp — Target.

I think that the growth in climbing gyms has been wonderful. Again, it goes to my general point and value statement that climbing matters. Whether we want an escape from the urban or suburban wasteland, a vista from a summit, or just found a way to get our body engaged with nature, whatever we seek has been met with climbing somewhere, somehow. Even, for some of us, in the Olympics.

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How Books and Magazines About Climbing Changed My Life

The Portal on Transit Road. (All rights reserved)

The other day I was rearranging my bookshelf to put the guidebooks all in one place, the narratives in another, and box up some that I use less frequently. The shelf is stacked from floor to ceiling inter-mixed with an old piton, an old belay device, broken altimeter, thank-you cards from Banff, and the knife from my Uncle Tom. I came across my oldest set of climbing magazines from the early 2000s and two books from the early 1990s. They affected me how they always affect me; a flood of forgotten feelings, including an impulse drop everything to go to the Adirondack Mountains, came over me like a wave.

Later that week, I realized that I wouldn’t be who I am today without the experiences those climbing magazines and books gave me. It wouldn’t have happened without the arrival of a new bookstore in town.

Although I have been told I watched a lot of television when I was a kid, what I remember most about growing up in my home was my mother, father, and siblings reading. They read the Bible, The Buffalo Evening News (when it was still delivered daily around five p.m.), magazines, Reader’s Digest, books from the library and the bookstore at the mall. I remember reading The Young Astronauts series and how it ; my imagination was strong and while I muddled through the school day, I could always come home to read and then go out into the six-acre woods behind my home to play out exploring the Martian surface. Outside the enchantment around my house, everything seemed lackluster.Moments of Doubt

Everything except for the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains, a six-hour drive away that until college, we only made the trip for a week once a year. The breeze on a bald summit, the edge of a flat-water lake, the silence on a trail surrounded by mossy boulders and evergreens, and the remote rock faces were beyond the scope of my imagination. I was awed by it all. One week in the ‘Dacks filled my cup for a whole year.

Around 1998, the sleazy bookshop at the mall was unseated as the great local bookstore. That’s when a Barnes & Noble opened up in my neighborhood of Buffalo, NY. The one at the mall was the place anyone at the mall seemed to hang out who didn’t have money to spend but needed somewhere to go. The loiterers endlessly perusing magazines and trinkets; they rarely entering the two long narrow aisles of books. I visited the American history section mostly, seeking interesting stories of people rising up to do important things.

Until the arrival of Buffalo’s Barnes & Noble, the only climbing book I owned was John Long’s How to Rock Climb: Face Climbing (1992), which I bought at the Eastern Mountain Sports in Lake Placid. I had stumbled, without knowing it, into bouldering on mossy Adirondack glacial “pebbles” the size of pickups and box trucks strewn through the Adirondack High Peaks. No one was there to teach me so I hoped this book would unlock some secrets. It did, by teaching me different foot positions and even introduced me to the technique and joy of slab climbing, which is abundant in the Adirondacks.

R&I #102 Aug/Sept 2000I suddenly had access to publications, like the American Alpine Journal that demonstrated what a serious and detailed group many climbers were, Climbing Magazine, which taught me skills, and Rock & Ice, which had fascinating features about people that appeared to have surrendered themselves over to climbing. I peruse these issues every few years, often when packing or unpacking for a move, like when we went from Alexandria, VA to Lancaster, PA. I still get this urge and sense of suddenly being unsettled, and feel the need to load my backpack with my helmet, put on my boots and drive to the Adirondacks or White Mountains in the dead of night to be there by morning and hit a trail to a peak or a hidden (always hidden) crag.

I also discovered David Roberts’ books in that bookstore. I bought a copy of Moments of Doubt, a collection of his articles. I have two memories strongly associated with finding this book. First, I was laying in bed before going to sleep reading the essay “Five Days on Mount Huntington.” In the introduction to the article, Roberts wrote, “I have never lived through a five-day span or comparable intensity.” I read on, as if I were a silent partner traveling with Roberts and Ed Bernd on Mount Huntington, even after Bernd’s mysterious accident that left Roberts alone, high on the mountain, to endure days and nights of storm. My eyes widened, I held the book tightly, and I felt my mostly-dark bedroom was a tent on a snow-blown mountainside that was horrifyingly stormy. Bernd was certainly gone, but Roberts was also certainly aware and the wisdom of his experience was like a candle lit in my dim suburban neighborhood.

Climbing #209, Nov. 2002

The other memory is thinking that I had a treasure. The climbing genre books at 796.522 next to the baseball and hockey books were deep. It wasn’t about breaking sport franchise records, or the final scores, or even changing the world or important things like ending poverty. I have always been into religion and theology and the human experiences of climbers written by climbers were the closest things that I related to and connected with from my experiences in the Adirondacks. They were human, emotional, at times egotistical, often impossible to put into words, and yet more enlightened about life and being alive than I have ever read. I had found literature that wasn’t about insight into the every day, I found people that came from the every day and transcended the every day. They found the mountain high and the peace and clarity that comes from the heights. I felt it before, but I thought it was reserved for church and prayer time and maybe after my mountain vacations, and yet, I found it reading these books by people doing something… seeking something, though they rarely ever said what they were seeking. I connected with them.

And I kept the treasure, the books, and my mountain climbing, a secret for a long, long time. It was too personal, too important, to share. Peakbagging, ice climbing, and bouldering gave me power; today I call it being centered. I didn’t share it, I think, because I  thought that if I shared my love for climbing books and climbing that my secret power would be diminished. I had been bullied and picked in elementary school. In defense, I learned not to bring up things that would make me vulnerable. In Buffalo, I had a fire in me, but I felt like very few people supported keeping it lit and a few wanted me to put it out. I don’t know why, even as I turned 40. When I graduated college, I left for Washington, DC without a job, without a cell phone, a bag with three suits and several neckties, a laptop, my Bible, and a box of climbing books.

R&I November 2000

By 2004, I was established in a job working for my hometown Congressman. One night while watching C-Span from the office, I was emailing the boss with recommendations on how he ought to vote on all of the procedural amendments to an appropriations bill. In between votes, during drawn-out remarks by other members of congress, I was exchanging messages with my former colleague who quit Capitol Hill gig to live and work in Alaska just a few months ago. Because of Moments of Doubt, and egged on by stories in those magazines, I decided I had to go, and now was the time to make a pilgrimage. That summer we saw Denali on the clearest day of the year, took in the Harding Ice Field, and even got thrown out of a bar in Anchorage.

I look at the magazines in the stacks these days and compare it to how I feel looking at a new issue of Climbing or R&I and realize I don’t get that feeling. I don’t feel compelled to participate the same way. I suspect that it’s the level of responsibility I have accepted and embraced since then; I can’t simply pickup and nonchalantly go on some adventure with aplomb like I once did.

Face Climbing by John Long.

While I remember the uncontrollable urge to go climb in the Adirondacks when I look at my old climbing magazines, I also know in the here and now I don’t feel it. I am somewhat content. (I say somewhat, because there are always improvements to be made in life, right?) The weird part is, while I am nostalgic, I don’t even feel like I am disappointed at my contentment. Perhaps because I like where I am. In fact, since Natalie and I had our little Wunderkind and Schnickelfritz I have gone on only short hikes but seen more if not just as much as I did on my 22-mile day treks high above sea level. Sometimes I miss the view and breeze atop the bald summits, yet the interest in the streams, a salamander, or a red fox, and bird watching has been truly magical. While wilderness might be far, nature is all around, and it is more rewarding than I ever realized before.

Now, my hikes with my family and my frequent trips to the climbing at the gym are the things that both center my mind and keep me physically fit. I don’t know where I would be as a partner to Natalie and the kids without either of those activities.

Natalie recently reread the biography of Maria Von Trapp, as in the Sound of Music, which we both read with joy before we had children. She recently reread it and read outloud some portions to me; it felt like we had overlooked entire sections and themes. I suppose our lenses have tinted since then.

I think most literature, but particularly books, is the same way — dynamic. My climbing books can be elastic and strike me in different ways depending where my experience has taken me to open new doors and windows into what the author put on paper. Maybe it’s time I reread some of Moments of Doubt. 

Still, it’s not that way as much with magazines. In looking through that old stack of climbing magazines, I can still see clearly who I was and how much I have changed because of them.

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Who Are You Without Mountains?

If you stop climbing, are you still a climber? Or did you used to climb?

If you start climbing again, you just proved that you’ve always been a climber. Right?

But what happens if you get into climbing, like really into climbing, and life offers to move you to a place without the mountains you love? Will you able be adequately continue to climb? That’s the question Travis is asking. Travis recently read my post When Climbing Does Not Matter and he wrote me in an email. He gave me permission to share this here:

I read your blog post entitled, “when climbing does not matter.” When I read that several years ago you lived in DC, I immediately thought of my own life situation.  I completely agree with you about the situations when, in fact, climbing does not matter. However, I am confronting some life choices at the moment that I feel are going to impede my ability to climb in the foreseeable future…
As of this moment I live near the Cascades, and have been fortunate enough to spend my weekends hiking and my work nights in the climbing gym. Over the last two years that I’ve lived here I’ve been slowly making inroads into the world of serious mountaineering, and am just now at a point where I feel comfortable tackling larger mountains.
I grew up in DC and the thought of ever moving back there is, to be frank, quite depressing. However, due to my career in intellectual property, the regression seems inevitable.
I have a final round interview for a position at a firm in Northern Virginia next week, and thus I am forced to grapple with the idea of not being able to climb anymore (should I actually get the job).
Since I would be remiss to not take this career opportunity, I wanted to ask you: how does one continue to be a serious climber when living on the east coast? And how do you find time with all of your responsibilities (career, family, etc.) to train? Finally, I am worried about de-acclimating to the altitude and failing climbs due to AMS if I’m living at sea level.
–Travis

 

I wished I could just tell Travis that he should stay in among the mountains. It’s an obvious choice to me. But life isn’t that simple.

When I was in Washington, DC for those 15 years, I know I was supposed to be there. I wanted to be involved in government and politics. I wanted to understand partisan differences. I wanted to know facts to leverage to bring clarity. So I worked for a Member of Congress for two of his terms, worked for a national financial trade association during the foreclosure crisis that became the Great Recession, before taking a cut in pay to join an advocacy team at a national nonprofit. And one day, just when Natalie’s and the kids’ needs weren’t being served there any longer, an opportunity came that we could move.

But the whole time I was in Washington, DC I wished I was other places. I called it Peaklessburg when I was upset about it. I dreamed about a policy job in Montpelier, Vermont. I even worked with a national insurance company about becoming an agent in Maine. DC was too sprawling, too crowded, and although nature was around me it was difficult to see between the stacks of concrete, steel, and glass. Mountains, particularly in the northeast that I craved, were too far and too costly to reach on a regular basis.

I have come to terms with the truth that I need several things to be happy, though two of them are somewhat conflicting and finding balance difficult: I need nature and wilderness in large doses, but I also need a job that I am called to do (meaning a job I find a lot of purpose.) Hopefully this isn’t your problem!

On the other hand, the Washington, DC can be manageable. There are frequently enjoyable climbing-related events with like-minded adventurers at both Earth Treks locations and both Sportrock Climbing Centers, the new flagship REI in the city, the Patagonia store in Georgetown, and National Geographic. I often took advantage of those.

Most importantly, if you haven’t seen it, I posted this back in 2016, when I was still in DC and expecting to stay there a long, long time: 10 Ways I Cope With the Big City. While I have some tangible advice, the key question was: What are you without climbing? For that matter, what are we if we take away our favorite activity or hobby? If we can answer that, I think we can make better decisions, even as climbers, hikers, adventurers, athletes, artists, and human beings.

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When Climbing Does Not Matter

Escape route. (All rights reserved)

“Climbing matters” has been part of the tag line for TSM since I started writing it while working in bleak, peakless, Washington, DC eight years ago. By “matters” I have always meant important or significant, as in climbing matters a lot, not a set of topics, or climbing matters to discuss. To me, the tag line has always been a solid values statement. It matters to me, and I hope to share how and why it should matter to you too. But I recently have been asking myself, does it always matter or am I just fooling myself?

The world is mostly made up of nonclimbers. While people say that climbing has reached the mainstream, the feats of great climbers has always been promoted to the nonclimbing world, and climbing is indeed more accessible, but there is still an opt-in clause to climbing. And even then, is Jimmy Chin’s film Free Solo going to inspire my nonclimbing film-going friends take up even gym climbing? Maybe it will for some kids.

Life is more than climbing. For me climbing is a lens to see not just mountains but my life. Brandon Leonard in Sixty Meters to Anywhere that climbing centers him. Nick Bullock and Kevin Jorgeson, through separate experiences, both claim climbing changed their lives. And still, there is more to life than climbing. We still go to a job to make money, support a lifestyle, be responsible (at least to some degree, right?), celebrate birthdays, and spend time doing nonclimbing things with people we like to be with.

I recently stumbled back to this brief passage in Kelly Cordes’ book The Tower, by chance. Here, Cordes arrives in Patagonia a year after Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk debolted the Compressor Route:

When I arrived in El Chaltén in January 2013, I had a hard time seeing the outrage over the debolting I had heard and read about. Climbers and trekkers were everywhere, locals were busy dealing with the tourists, and unprecedented spells of good weather had settled over the massif.

Nearly everyone I met was kind and welcoming, despite many being stressed and overworked. One day, I spoke with a year-round resident named Poli. Her observations matched those of most non-climbing locals. She said she doesn’t know anything about climbing — these “nails” [Maestri’s old bolts] everyone was talking about last year were things she couldn’t even identify. Of course she knew about the controversy, everyone did, but to her it didn’t matter. She would never go to Cerro Torre, she said.

If you know about “these nails,” folks knowledgeable about Cerro Torre’s history or that read Cordes’ book, it’s hard not to have an opinion of Cesare Maestri, Hayden Kennedy, and Jason Kruk. They’re either heroes, liars, cheats, or assholes. Maybe a little of each. I think a case could be made that they’re all audacious for different reasons. I personally don’t care if you know about the the Compressor Route and it’s history, though I think it is very interesting and that there is a lot for everybody to glean from it. Overall, I think the drive and cleverness of the men and women of action that made them go to the mountains in the first place is critically important to us being human. Still, I could see why people don’t bother to look into climbing’s stories.

And if you really don’t know about “these nails,” life is busy enough with out them, right? We are all working to support our lifestyle or reaching for the next higher lifestyle. Whether we are poor and trying to earn food, rent, and keep the heat on, or trying to be middle-class buying better food, paying off the mortgage, and saving for a nicer car, everyone is busily keeping up with their life. And it’s hard. We make it hard, especially in Western society, keeping up with a standard of living we have or are pretending to have. Nick Bullock, a mountaineer and author of Echoes: One Climber’s Hard Road to Freedom (2012) and Tides: A Climber’s Voyage (2018), was told the formula for a successful life by his father: You should get a good job that you’ll keep forever for financial security, one day marry, and one day die. I was taught that too, in fact. But it lacks any beauty, inspiration, or soul, doesn’t it?

Even if we take Bullock’s father’s formula as doctrine, we still pause to think about things being easier or better with ease, don’t we? Unless we’ve shut that part of our imagination off. To help us break free of the formula, Bullock found climbing and so did I.

But for a lot of people, that’s not true. To those for whom climbing doesn’t matter, climbing is inconsequential, mere recreation, and, at worst, pure and dangerous frivolity:

  • Climbing does not matter when you’re content.
  • Climbing does matter when you need the world to slow down.
  • Climbing doesn’t matter when your cup runs over with responsibility.
  • Climbing does not matter when change in and around our community seems unrelenting and we cannot keep up.
  • Climbing does not matter when we need food, shelter, and clothing.

The nonclimber’s opinion of it as mere recreation and frivolous doesn’t worry me as much as dismissing climbing as inconsequential. Fortunately, it’s not a climbers-versus-nonclimbers struggle. There are lots of degrees of appreciation. Even Poli doesn’t have to climb to appreciate it; at least she recognizes it as part of her community.

The threshold of appreciating climbing, where it starts to matter, it seems, is acknowledging a restlessness inside us, or that we seek something more than the world where some things do not matter. Maybe what we need to recognize is that we want to matter. Do we matter? Do you?

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