Who Cares (or, Do You Give a Shit About Anything?)

Why not throw your garbage out the window?

I recently created a narrated slide show about climbing on Cerro Torre. (Link here, also embedded below.) It is not an exhaustive history. I selected a few climbs. If you want to know more about what I selected and why, read my post about creating the show.

A comment after the post got me thinking – it’s from a guy named Dave King, who used to race bicycles. The latest Lance Armstrong doping stuff just happened, and a pro cycling tour came through Colorado. Cool. Wait, riding a bike? For something other than utilitarian transport? Well, that’s about as silly as climbing. Or, shit, let’s think about it – baseball, fantasy football, golf? Golf? That’s the stupidest fuckin’ thing I’ve ever heard in my whole entire life. But people love it. Dedicate huge chunks of time and energy doing it, and play by certain rules. As with so many things.

Most of what we do makes little sense. Has no great benefit to anybody else. What, like working for that magazine, or for that real estate company, or that house-of-cards financial corporation that long-dicked the public means something, or is truly important? Bullshit. It’s as worthless to the world as climbing. Almost as worthless as golf.

But we do these things.

We play by certain rules, too. Or at least a code of behavior. We don’t throw our garbage out the window, even if nobody’s looking. Don’t huck our trash on the trail, even though it doesn’t matter in the global sense. We don’t nudge that stupid golf ball closer to the hole while our opponent is checking his stock portfolio on his iPhone(™). Most of us don’t, anyway.

I always thought people who littered their cigarette butts were pieces of shit.

We have things that we care about. That mean something to us. No matter how silly they seem to others.

Hell, even bowling has rules.

Perhaps the key is to maintain some perspective. So ya don’t pull your piece out on the lane.

Still, I wonder why and how people rationalize cheating. Here’s part of Dave King’s – the cyclist I mentioned above – comment:

“[R]iders will hold onto team cars on long climbs so they aren’t dropped or eliminated altogether from the race. I always wondered how they felt about it, later when they would finish with the pack or win a stage or place, knowing they had used ‘unfair means’ to remain in the race. Probably their minds had already justified it long before the act occurred.”

I wonder, too. Then again, I take a second and examine my own behavior.

Meaningless instance: When I boxed, I remember intentionally cracking an opponent with an elbow while fighting inside – I knew the ref was on our right, so I “missed” with a tight left hook and followed through, nailing him with my elbow – but that bastard was fighting dirty all along, kept hitting me low. He had it comin’. And hey, it’s a fight. [Tone being lost in the interwebs, I’m well aware of my rationalization.]

Meaningful instance: I care about the environment, yet I drive and fly all over, thus polluting the thing that I love. Ahh, but I don’t have any kids. Population is most certainly the root of our resource crisis. I can fly all I want. [Rationalization duly noted.]

Meaningful rationale: We have to draw some reasonable lines or we couldn’t exist. In the absolute realm, we are all hypocrites (at least anybody with enough of a pulse to have ever expressed an opinion on anything). In bicycling, people use fancy wheels, or whatever. Top riders dope in order to keep up with other top riders (what a can of worms that opens; lots of thoughts here). In climbing, we use some accepted aids that help us climb safely and efficiently.

Conversely, I find it moronic when people say things like, “If you used a car to get to the climb, then you have no right to complain about abandoned fixed ropes [usually left by the moron saying this].” Or, “If you’ve ever clipped a bolt, you can’t complain about the Compressor Route.” Right. Good one, Einstein.

It’s pointless to argue with those who lack a frontal cortex, or the critical thinking skills to discern between a breeze and a hurricane.

Within reasonable realms of life, I’m curious – what do you care enough about to do right? No matter how large or how small. What examples come to mind from others? Seriously, I’d love to know. There must be great, powerful, and hilarious stories.

Maybe things beyond the predictable stock answers (sorry, couldn’t resist, I’m getting jaded to the interwebs):

• Everybody will swear that their children are everything to them. (Regardless of how much you owe in child support and how often you leave them alone in the trailer park to drool over professional wrestling while you hit the titty bar…)

• Everybody will say that climbing doesn’t matter. Funny how often I see that on climbing posts, irony un-noted, or hear it from people who devote(d) so much of their lives to climbing that they scrounged for leftovers in Camp Four and considered performing unnatural acts down in the park for road trip money.

• Some old blowhards, who used to prioritize climbing but have since gained a few pounds and spent too much time behind a desk, will give that crusty snort and say, “Heh – well, I’ve done a laaawta climbin’, and I tell ya this climbing stuff you’re into don’t mean nothin’. One of these days you’ll find something that really matters [see first bullet point, above], and then you’ll…”

To be clear, I know that climbing doesn’t matter in the overall scope of the world. Don’t use this to shut-down your brain, though, because there is always a greater cause than the one you proclaim most important. Young people are dying of cancer. There’s genocide in the Middle East and Africa. Torture. People are starving. Unjustly imprisoned.

And still, most games, activities, and daily actions have rules or codes of conduct. Why? Much as with general life, they help maintain order. Give us a sense of structure. Maybe even of right and wrong.

Devout fishermen don’t fish with live bait, I’m told. Hunters don’t court their prey with a gut pile. (Yet they’ll tree a cat with dogs and then shoot it, which always seemed weird to me, though climbing surely has its nonsensical ways – my cousin hunted with his beloved coon dogs, and I always meant to get him to explain it to me (I love dogs, and I do stupid things, too, so I think I could get it), and also give him shit about not being more sporting, like, drop the dogs and the gun and stalk the cougar with a knife in your teeth, mano y mano, fair means, baby – to which, I’m sure, he’d laugh and reply, “I’m not stupid.” And he might add, “You should climb at your limit unroped, hippie – be more sporting.”)

Jim Erickson, a legendary climber in Boulder, still doesn’t use chalk, doesn’t rehearse moves, and doesn’t return to routes he didn’t onsight. Even in the gym. It’s just the game he likes to play, I guess.

Other examples abound. I’d like to hear some of them.

In a world of “progress” defined as continually making things easier to enable “success,” I can’t help but think that success isn’t always success, and failure isn’t always failure.

Seems to me that much of today’s world is uninspired, disillusioned. Commerce, consumption, apathy.

I remember an excellent article by Matt Samet, on the history of sport climbing in North America. He was talking about Jim Karn, a phenomenal climber also known for obsessiveness, his dark side, and throwing legendary wobblers. The great, understated quote from Jim years later: “At least I cared about something.”

I think it’s a wonderful thing, a privilege, to have something you love. Something you care about, even if it’s as worthless as everything else.

17 thoughts on “Who Cares (or, Do You Give a Shit About Anything?)

  1. Hey, I can’t climb for shit… but if you ever just want to hang out on the top of a mountain in Utah and bullshit about life, I am there!

    I guess I can’t say I care about my kids now without you thinking I visit all the titty bars in Utah (Do we even have a titty bar in Utah?) but the one thing that I do care about is trying to instill in them a love and respect for the wild places. I want them to experience the mountains, the rivers, the canyons, the desert, the beaches… I want them to love adventure in the outdoors as much as I do.

    and I think that people that flick their cigarette butts are assholes too!

    • Nice, I’ll bet we could get this life deal all figured out.
      Ha, dang, didn’t think about that Utah titty bar situation. Hmmm. Good point. Hadn’t exactly thought of that.
      Seriously, that must be so cool to do those things with your kids and instill such things in them. Seems such a natural, joyous thing for kids, too, to be outside exploring the world, and infinitely healthier than the TV-video game turn-to-blob style of parenting. It’s also just better — I know we aren’t ever supposed to say one thing is better than another today, but yes, taking them to mountains, rivers, canyons, desert, beaches, is absolutely better than letting them rot in front of a TV.
      Weird to think how things can change over time, too. I’d think that a big challenge as a parent would be, how do you ensure, or just hope (because you can’t make them do what you say forever), that they maintain a sense of wonder and curiosity through life, instead of letting life beat it out of them? Guess ya probably do the best you can while you can.
      Who knows. Anyway, interesting stuff.

  2. Nice post. I struggle with this feeling with my own climbing all of the time. I feel guilty about enjoying it and doing it as much as I do, because, really, what does it accomplish, other than affording me a few moments of triumph (or, mostly, failure — but that’s learnin’). It’s good to know that you at least think about the same things, and I like the idea that actually caring about something is valuable in itself.

    Also, as you allude to, we all make little deals and compromises with ourselves. I toss cig butts on the ground when I’m in the city, but never in wild places (sort of ironic, since more people have to see the butts in the city). But hey, I don’t have kids, so I guess I’m still in the black!


    • ha, excellent Alex, totally still in the black! i can fully imagine the rationale for in the city but not wild places — guess it’s the “outhouse” philosophy (as i’ve heard it called), keeping all the crap in one place. like, well, it’s already trashed, so…

      which reminds me (it never ends!), there’s some talk about how this can cascade, build upon itself in a negative way. i guess there’s a famous article called Broken Windows, by James Q. Wilson (had to dig this up — had a reminder to myself to find the article months ago, which i never did; maybe i will now that your comment reminded me — thanks!), and, if i remember right from when i heard about it (on a radio show/audio story, i think), it’s this idea/theory that just one broken window in a neighborhood shows everybody else that no one gives a fuck about the place, and so then more broken windows, more trash, more crime, etc. i guess some mayors, city development people, or whoever does these things, have gone on crusades to keep the ‘hoods clean and make sure things are orderly, no broken windows, no scofflaws like you littering butts :), etc, and supposedly it has this whole positive effect on crime, etc, coming from people giving a shit. which, i guess, comes back to what we’re talking about with this post. interesting stuff, huh?

  3. In response to the kids thing, here’s how you allow them to remain curious: don’t let them sit on the computer or play video games all day. I honestly think that will be the downfall of our society. Moreso than Ebola and genocide. Because if we in the western, developed world don’t learn how to function as humans, then the whole race if fucked. To Jeremey–great to keep them in the outdoors and teach them about nature. I think that is one of the best things one can do. And for the record, my kids do matter. And yes, I’m one of those uber-annoying parents. And I’m rambling. As for golf, I gotta agree with you Kelly. But bowling seems just as dumb.

  4. Regarding feeling guilty about climbing: I come from the motorcycling world – sportbike riding to be precise. I had plenty of guilt about that pursuit. It’s expensive (bike, tires, gas insurance, gear), I worried about becoming a road crayon and causing my wife grief, I was constantly breaking (shattering, more like) the law, it was environmentally unfriendly and there was no physical benefit to it. As far as I’m concerned, climbing is guilt free. It’s great for me physically and mentally, it’s not very expensive, it gets me into beautiful and sometimes wild places and it’s really low impact on the environment.

    As for pointlessness, I totally hear you. For me, climbing is about joy, challenge, friends and memorable moments. Those are things that make life meaningful to me. In 10, or 1000, or 100,000 years an asteroid will obliterate all we have ever been. In the grand scheme, legacies don’t mean squat – it’s all about right now.

  5. hey kelly. really awesome post: funny as shit, means something, and way more profound than much of the drivel about uninspired details that plague most climbing media.

    shit matters only in relation to other shit. your kids matter in relation the saneness of society. landmines matter relative to our beliefs in our humanity etc etc etc.

    climbing matters relative to the other shit going on for you. it doesnt matter much for the fly-by-night, wannabe or has-been who does fuck all with the rest of their life then demands to be judged by their climbing alone, some geek who only climbs cos they like the gear or to talk about it at the (titty) bar, then expects to be applauded for it.
    thats when climbing doesnt matter.
    if climbing is the most full-on part of your life – and youre not climbing stuff all that committed – then its hard to see it mattering beyond the same level as golf etc.

    BUT climbing matters to the kid in rehab with a choice between outdoor rec or detention. it matters to the single mum with one night a week to herself and she chooses something not centered on booze or cosmetics. it matters to the 9 year old who wants an alternative to football or video games. it matters to those who go beyond the usual places to see whats out there.
    climbing matters to me because my career includes risks that makes most climbing seem as dangerous as coffee at starbucks – and climbing is a step down from that without stepping out totally. to me its decompression.

    in the big picture, what matters?
    demining, paramedics, education for girls, stepping up to be counted and the right to have harmless fun.

    you wanted stories about shit that matters. heres one:
    i live in japan, and im involved in specialist logistics. last year the big tsunami hit, then the whole radiation thing, and tho most people wanted to help, they ended up just running away – even the international rescue teams. i understand that – most peoples knowledge of radiation comes from hollywood…
    my team went into the baaaad areas (special logistics gets us bizarre taskings) and on about day 10 we heard about a school that the regular teams hadnt been able to check.
    we got in, and found about 5 teachers and 20 kids drinking snow melt. they didnt know the reactor had blown.

    ‘we noticed there werent as many helicopters flying about as before. we didnt think anyone would find us.’ they said.

    that matters.
    in relation to climbing: 6 months before id come off k2 into the destruction in pakistan.
    getting into post-tsunami japan was easy. the japanese dont have guns.

    somewhere in all this should be mentioned the motto of the burning man works crew: ‘if you dont matter, we dont care’.
    think about it before getting insulted.

    ps. thankyou for providing posts that make non-abusive swearing ok. swearing, for fucks sake, doesnt matter.

    pps. come to japan some winter. the ice is great and i believe we have a few friends in common.

  6. Granted, climbing/skiing/surfing/whatever refresh us, restore us. But if you want to do something else that matters, do something for someone else. Take dinner to your neighbor who’s having a rough go. Set up your slackline in the park and help all the kids walk on it. Volunteer at the soup kitchen. Volunteer for anything.

    I’ll freely admit that I’m not great at doing any of the above. But when I do I’ve never felt like I just wasted a perfect day that I could’ve been climbing/skiing/surfing/whatever. In the end, I don’t believe it makes a whole lot of difference to anyone, even ourselves, how we recreated or what far-flung places we have pictures of on our hard drive. It’s the relationships with friends and the people’s lives we’ve touched.

    So I think it’s fine to care about climbing, maybe even to care obsessively. But without caring about anything else in life, it’s a little hollow. I’ve taken my kids, other people’s kids, and non-climber adults climbing a bunch of times. And it’s funny, but I’ve gotten just as much satifaction setting up 5.2 TRs and belaying all day while a bunch of bumblies break every “rule” in climbing than I have doing “real” climbing with buddies.

    Not trying to sound self-righteous or preachy. It’s just been my experience that doing something for other people feels pretty dang awesome.

    • Thanks, Steve. Great stuff, and very well put — doesn’t sound self-righteous or preachy at all. Really good things to remember, thanks for that.

  7. Great slide show Kelly!

    I think climbing matters, so does bowling, and maybe golf too. Everything we do with our lives matters, because every action shapes the world and the lives around us. There are people out there that are sober because of climbing, have been inspired by it, or found an appreciation for nature that they previously did not have. I know climbing has had a positive impact on my life, and not just in the sense of fun.

    What we do in the mountains ultimately reflects the way we behave elsewhere. Taking shortcuts like the compressor route reminds me a lot of what I encounter on a daily basis. People doing just enough to squeak by, living beyond their means and demanding instant gratification. Who is teaching us that this is ok? Jason and Hayden obviously didn’t follow this ethic and their ascent is important because it draws a contrast to the direction in which society is heading.

  8. Just found your AAC interview/podcast. Love the sketchy Kelly story! Had me rolling. New to climbing this year and I’m 31 so I have some time to work out the kinks, but love climbing and the community! Thanks for the blog!

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