The Fun Scale

I first heard about the Fun Scale from my friend Peter Haeussler back in 2001, as we bushwhacked through thick Alaskan Devil’s Club en route to cold beers on his sailboat. I’d just come out of the Range, where Scotty D and I had a terrific climbing trip, sometimes terrifying but we loved it later – we’d put up two new routes on Thunder Mountain and made the probable first one-day ascent of Mt. Huntington. Anyway, while bushwhacking and salivating over the beers, avoiding the bears, and dealing with the Devil, it dawned on me that when engaged in Type II and Type III fun, I find myself dreaming about Type I fun. But the transient fix of Type I fun rarely lasts, at least without something deeper, something committing. And so I think … ahhh, nevermind – I could go on and on.

Here’s the Fun Scale:

Heading toward the upper parts of Mt. Huntington.  Scott DeCapio photo.

Leaving the good stuff and heading toward the final slopes on Mt. Huntington. Scott DeCapio photo.

Type I Fun – true fun, enjoyable while it’s happening. Good food, good sex, 5.8 hand cracks, sport climbing, powder skiing. Margaritas.

Type II Fun – fun only in retrospect, hateful while it’s happening. Things like working out ‘till you puke, and usually ice and alpine climbing. After climbing the West Face Couloir on Huntington, Scotty and I both swore that we hated alpine climbing. The final 1,000′ was horrific – swimming up sugar snow that collapsed beneath us, roped together without protection – and took nearly as long as the initial 3,000′ from camp. On the summit, Scotty turned to me and said, in complete seriousness, “I want my mom so bad right now.” By the time we reached Talkeetna our talk of Huntington turned to, “Ya know, that wasn’t so bad. What should we try next time?”

Scotty (L) and me back in base camp after Huntington.

Scotty (L) and me back in base camp after Huntington.

Type III Fun – not fun at all, not even in retrospect. As in, “What the hell was I thinking? If I ever even consider doing that again, somebody slap some sense into me.” The final 1,000′ of Huntington, when I stop and think about it…but, then again, a friend climbed it the next year and had perfect conditions.

I guess you never really know what sort of fun you’re getting yourself into once you leave the couch, which is fine, because it doesn’t always have to be “fun” to be fun.

Maybe the whole goal, the path of the enlightened, is to turn Type III situations into Type I fun. Right. Anybody had any luck with that?

29 thoughts on “The Fun Scale

  1. Great! Although I would add a Fun 2.5. A mix of 2 and 3. I mean, those climbs when you get really really scared and you don’t know whether you’ll make it back. It’s bad while it’s happening and bad when you recount it a few months later; but then, a few years in the future, you meet you old partner again and you laugh about that especial climb. Or maybe not…

    • That’s a clear type 2 I’d say.

      Kelly, I’d say that the road to enlightenment comes first by turning II into I, and then true masters may convert IIIs to IIs.

      In the words of Suzuki Roshi: “The true purpose of [Climbing] is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes. [Climbing] practice is to open up our small mind.”

  2. Love the fun scale! I reviewed it in an article in Canadian Alpine Journal 2008 (crediting Kelly, as he’s the one I heard it from). I jumped on the “2 cents” bandwagon, proposing Type IV fun: Postmodern Fun.

    By definition, Type IV is difficult to describe, requires high sounding, diffuse words. The nutshell of its meaning remains obscure; but Type IV is mostly a deconstruction of the notion of fun.

    Here’s the true definition of Type IV fun, quoted from
    “If one examines the pretextual paradigm of fun, one is faced with a choice: either reject neocultural objectivism or conclude that fun is fundamentally meaningless. But subdialectic semioticist theory implies that fun, surprisingly, has objective value, but only if truth is interchangeable with language.”

    There you have it.

  3. great replies — so, Uri, maybe it’s like a form of Purgatory, this 2.5 you propose. But it’s probably just temporary, no? Or, as they say, time heals all wounds. Maybe we go: time makes all type III fun into type II. my friend Peter, from whom i first heard the fun scale, said to me in email today: “No one really wants Type 3. Our minds have this incredible ability to forget pain. Thus the Type 3–>2 transition.” seems a fair and valid observation!

    • Indeed. I guess on the long run 3 can become 2 and there is no 2.5. In my case it was a scary attempt on Mont Blanc in winter. I am still scared. I can’t even think about that climb, however my buddy and I got together yesterday and over Tequila (yeap, I am a big fun of Margaritas too!) we manage to laugh about some of the scary parts of the climb.

      • the merits of margaritas! Yikes, sounds like Mont Blanc would qualify as type III, I’d say. it’s like the mythical 2.5 fun represents that transition time. if you managed to laugh about it, maybe soon it’ll be type III…

  4. ah, stonebhikku shows the path to enlightenment! true, though — and that quote is great. only thing in my experience i might question is whether you have the first part backwards — meaning, seems to me the hardest part, the things the true masters could do, would be to turn II into I. actually, scratch that — to turn II OR III into I, wow. i’m no master, i just have a short memory, and after some time and some PBRs, i can fairly easily convert III into II. hmmm.

    nice, Jer, didn’t know we got the fun scale in your CAJ article, yes! man, the type IV, postmodern…makes my head hurt. makes my face hurt, too, from laughing so hard. thanks.

  5. The question is: why is type III fun called fun at all if it never becomes fun. Shouldn’t type III be defined as some other level of fun and the current definition be called something like Type I misery?

    • i know, i’ve thought that very thing as well. perhaps it’s that you go into it thinking it’s gonna be fun? or maybe it just works like the way a 300-pound guy is nicknamed “Tiny.”

      • The idea that Type III fun is NO FUN AT ALL is obviously meant to be comic irony.

        Notably, it is also something ONLY people who have willingly placed themselves into can laugh at (presumably anybody reading this website.)

  6. I’d say that the expectation of fun is pretty key, but also, if you want to make a scale of fun, it’s got to go from ultimate fun to no fun at all, and the grades must attend to that as well.

    ps. kelly, that was a funny podcast you did for patagonia, made for a good listen.

  7. Sub-question: If Margaritas are a Type I drink, what is Type II and Type III drinks?

    For Type II, I propose Sailor Jerry and other types of spiced rum.

    For Type III, Popov and rubbing alcohol.

    • excellent categorizations, JSV, i agree. i also think margs can be all 3: after a few too many, though fun at the time, the next day you think of margs as type II fun. after way too many margs, you make enough an ass of yourself (hmmm, though i suppose you’d have to be aware of it, too, something ominously missing from most people who have too many…) that it becomes type III fun, thus going from type I to type III in the same night, skipping type II.

      perhaps i’ll have to investigate this hypothesis. oh, wait a minute, i already have.

  8. I’ve had my own scale vision of fun for years, and I quite totally agree with yours. OK for type 1 and type 2, I’ve always defined them te same way as you.
    But I’ve also figured out something that’s between your 1 and 2 level, which is not exactly instant fun, neither fun afterwards. It’s fun (let’s say pleasure) because of the technical difficulty. Like climbing your first .12a, skiing your first 5.1 slope… Sometimes it’s not quite fun on the moment (my first .12a involved lots of work, pain, even suffering, and it was not fun like climbing a delightful perfect .10b, but it was fun, like .5 seconds before (or after ?) I clipped the chain. It’s stupid to say, but let’s face it : had this route been a .11c or d, it would have let me less great memories than this day. So I guess technical difficulty can be part of fun too.

  9. Among my group of friends, we have proposed two additional levels of fun. Not sure yet if they’re whole new levels or sub-grades:

    Type I.5: Fun for you but not fun for anyone else
    Type III.5: Fun for everyone else but not fun for you

  10. My friends and I have thought about this allot sense the concept came to light.

    We’d like to propose type-4 fun. Fun that is so un-fun that it prevents you from having fun in the future.

    • Whoa, breaking barriers there, Chris! Yeah, makes sense though. Like it’s Type III fun that results in a serious injury? Pretty un-fun when that happens (as I know), and certainly prevents ya from having fun for awhile.

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  12. And don’t forget Type 0 fun – the opposite of Type 2 – really fun at the time, but in retrospect, terrible and a story you sure aren’t telling anyone. Like what can happen after too many of those margaritas, in some cases…

  13. Pretty sure you get yourself into Type 3 fun by talking about Type 2 fun while having Type 1 fun. It must be fun because for some reason you keep doing it.

  14. I love this post! I just recently experienced some type III fun and am still trying to mentally recover from it…though I think it could turn into type II fun with proper gear in the future. I’ve also experienced plenty of type II fun, getting over my fear of heights.

  15. WaPo: According to “Climbing Dictionary: Mountaineering Slang, Terms, Neologisms & Lingo,” the scale was coined in 1985 by Rainer Newberry, a geology professor at the University of Alaska. He told climber/geologist Peter Haeussler about it, and Haeussler introduced the concept to climber/writer Kelly Cordes, who put it online in a couple of blog posts.

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