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Thoughtful Thursday#4: Fields of Play in Climbing

Posted Thursday, October 10, 2019

Thoughtful TH#4: “Do you ever get tired of [insert objective]?”

I get asked this question while guiding popular routes not infrequently. While I understand this question on its face, the underlying preconceptions seem to belie a misunderstanding of what climbing environments are. They are never static. Or benign. There is always a game at play—a game with consequences. I don't follow much professional sports, but I've never heard of an announcer asking an athlete afterwards, “So, do you ever get tired of playing on the same field?”

At the professional level, football/soccer/baseball fields all have the same pre-set dimensions, with specifications down to the cut length of the grass and width of the striping. I can only imagine that for those professional athlete, the challenge is always there, because the team you are playing against is always changing. Your team is always changing.You are always changing. And, while I don't view a mountain as an adversary, throughout the season, it's routes are in flux. Every new climbing team brings a collection of strengths and challenges to work with. And the self is a phenomenon whose substance is about as lasting as mountain cloud formations—and whose emotions are tied closely to them.

All of this ties in some ways into the concepts of “walk ups” (rec term) or “trade routes” (guide term). When I hear a rec climber or guide casually dismissing the hazards of a particular climb, simply because it's been done a lot or they have done it a lot, it disturbs me. I've guided on Rainier for 9 years and, by my bad accounting, have over 100 summits. None felt casual to me. In the mountains the cut length of the grass is always changing and if you don't stay aware of it, you'll soon be under it.


TTH is meant as a counterweight (but not a criticism of) the oh-so-popular climbing Tech Tuesday posts. See my Sept 5th post for background.