Yes, another autobiographical post. I know, it’s all about me. But this is a blog, after all, so what did you expect?

Friends are coming back from Alaska, some are still up there, we’re about to send the AAJ to print (and I’ll resume writing more, especially since I’ve got some cool projects upcoming — more soon), it’s that time of year that makes me think of big alpine trips, makes me long for them. Something about the whole experience, the travel, the high mountain air, otherworldly exposure and the greatest friendships. Thinking back to the 15 or so such trips I’ve done around the world, those things stand out. Summits don’t. As I type this and scan my memory, I can recall some of the climbing, and I’m happy to have been to some amazing summits, but, holy shit, it’s about so much more.

At least it is to me. Not everybody gets it, though. Including this guy. [Story written after my 2003 Alaska trip with Jonny Copp.]


He glanced at the mountaineering display, then started stabbing questions at the ranger on duty. How many summit? How many die? How many try? He’d seen Vertical Limit.

Jonny Copp, skiing out of the East Fork the day after our route, "Going Monk."

I could hear him careen around the ranger’s station as I sat peacefully in a chair looking through topos. From the corner of my eye I saw him scan the room herky-jerky style. He had no time to waste in Talkeetna, Alaska, population 300 and hot stop on the summer tour bus tour. I felt his eyes zero in on me. I buried my head farther into the topos, but those heavy breaths were soon bearing down on me like a steam train.

I must not look intimidating enough.

He stood way too close to my chair, catching his wind. No introduction, nothing but those two words, question mark-slash-exclamation point. His cheeks flushed so red they looked as if they could explode; his gut pushed so hard on his shirt I feared it might burst through and crush me.

“You summit?” he blurted between breaths.

Goddamnit, three weeks in my happy place and now this….What he meant, of course, was had I summited “Mt. McKinley,” obviously the only mountain in the Alaska Range. Jonny and I had summitted, via a new route on a peak we’d never even heard of in the East Fork; we’d skied in 10 miles, climbed 4,300 vertical feet of technical climbing, tagged the top in a whiteout storm that lasted through the descent, I plunged into a crevasse when skiing away afterward, returned to our tent cold and soaked and trembling in fear, when Jonny handed me a PBR that he’d packed in and hidden in the snow for our return. But none of this was what the guy wanted to hear.

He panted as though he’d just run a marathon. He needed my reply now.

I thought for a second about what to say, then looked up.

“Nope,” I said.

His head lurched backward a bit, and the corner of his mouth dipped in synchronicity with his brow. He’d been rooked: he’d come all this way to see a real climber, and this was all he got.

“Pthhhh,” he snorted and waddled away.

8 thoughts on “Loser

  1. Kelly you kill me sometimes. Guys like this one here are the reason I get so mad sometimes, in fact one time (climbing in Mendoza) we had once of the type III fun climbs that left us all scared and on the way down, escaping a series of typical patagonia winds we barely made down, however it was a hell of a trip all the way there and back. This guy comes alone in the hosteria we were staying and he asked us if we summited. We said no, that we were almost blown away by the wind and he said: a little wind kept you from “walking” all the way to the top of that small mountain? I wanted to kick his ass so badly… anyway, people don’t get it.
    To sort of quote Chouinard with the quote you mention on the email about people “climbing” everest, “ya go over there an asshole, and you come back and you’re still an asshole.” They simply don’t understand.
    Thanks for another wonderful post

  2. Yeah I know that guy you were a loser. I would rather label this vignette “Humility”- keeps us alive, keeps us learning and keeps the passion when things get dicey.

    “People who don’t get it, don’t know that they don’t get it”.

  3. what i didnt understand, was what is the significance of this person to you ?
    if the encounter had no significance other than a slight annoyance you wouldnt write about it i suppose..

  4. This is what I am talking about when it comes to beginners. For some reason there is always hostility towards new or unexperienced climbers. There is even hostility towards people that don’t climb, as in this case. My problem with this is that, you are inferring that this guy is a ‘loser’. Is he a ‘loser’ because he doesn’t understand the climbing philosophy in terms of summiting? As far as I can tell, he merely seems like an interested tourist. People that don’t climb will obviously see summiting as the most important aspect of climbing, whereas even a lightly experienced climber would know that the experience of climbing is far more valuable than just getting to the top. Nonetheless, I still think this story is extremely insightful and, in general, awesome. haha

    • “you are inferring that this guy is a ‘loser’.”
      –absolutely not, Andrew. i was inferring that i am the loser in his eyes. the guy so much as treated me that way at the end of our conversation (which wasn’t a conversation at all, it was him jumping in my space, wholly uninvited). i think i made his behavior toward me pretty clear. and all i did was speak one word to him, and mind my own business. man, what is up with this “hostility toward beginners” thing of yours? i suppose one could assume, though — and, ok, correctly — that i, in turn, thought badly of him. so? the guy was fully rude to me.

      “Is he a ‘loser’ because he doesn’t understand the climbing philosophy in terms of summiting?”

      –no, that is not why. jesus, man, try to read the post without your “hostility” bias — this is a helluva stretch you’re making here. i’d have thought i made clear, in the portrayal of the situation, that it was more than that. his utter disinterest in anything process-oriented, and his rudeness, made me disinterested in him. maybe you didn’t get it, fine, maybe i didn’t write it well enough. from the moment i picked-up on his demeanor, i didn’t want to associate with him. this guy clearly thought me a “loser” for not summiting, which he thought was the only thing worthwhile. he took zero interest in anything else. i shouldn’t speak for you, but i greatly dislike the “fast food nation” mentality people have toward climbing, or toward most things, with zero interest in the process.

      now, if you can honestly say that you are so accepting of everyone else, even those whose values you dislike, that you’ve never made such a judgment, damn, man, good for you. otherwise, i’d think you might understand a little about what i’m saying, and not be so defensive over anything you perceive as being demeaning toward beginners. there is a world of difference between this repulsive guy i encountered at the talkeetna ranger station and an interested beginner wishing to climb.

      “there is always hostility towards new or unexperienced climbers”
      –i fully call bullshit. man, i’ve taught so many beginners at clinics and festivals, done so with complete interest in helping, never viewed it as a burden, helped lots of people who’ve asked for advice (i also know tons of experienced climbers who’ve done the same — it’s not an isolated example), that it’s truly one helluva stretch to accuse me of hostility toward beginners, dude. whatever the chip on your shoulder is about said hostility (sorry if someone was a dick to you at a crag or something, but don’t take it out on me), please direct it toward someone deserving of your criticism.

  5. Gotcha Kelly,

    I’m sorry for misunderstanding. I really appreciate everything you write and do lot, and I consider you to be a hero to me. I just misunderstood the situation. In fact, I feel like a complete idiot now! I just think it’s sweet that you can respond to random people like me, even though your famous. It just highlights how down to earth you are. I think if anyone has had success in there life, it’s you man. (You must have listened to the Dirtbag Diary podcast titled, “A Successful Life” by Aimee Brown)



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