Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Cap on Crap

A few weeks ago the Hink and I climbed the direct North Ridge of Stuart.  Now, the Hink and I disagree about everything-- Israeli foreign policy, God, evolution etc-- but we can crank big routes together so off to this Fifty Cassic it was.

Hink brought twenty pages of maps and topos, a cell-phone that linked to GPS and google maps so you could watch where you were in real time even when out of cell range (don't ask me how he did it), an altimeter, a watch and a Thingy that could send both distress calls and sexts to the person of your choice via satelite.

Hink kept meticulous track of time: when we left the car, when we got to ____, when we started ____, how hig we were when ____ etc etc.

The route-- about 3,000 feet, with 5 pitches of 5.7, 5.8, 5.9, 5.9, 5.9 and a load of around 5.3-- went down according to Hink in 6 hours.  The return to car was no problem.

It would turn out that we actually needed two things on route: a simple coutour map of the area to let us get to the base of the route, and a photo taken from the descent that showed the descent couloir.  Unnecessary was everything else.  It turned out to be like the difference between the Stupidtopo guide to Mt Russel's Fishhook Arête in the Sierras, and Croft's. The Stupidtopo has an entire page of details, descriptions, beta, bla bla.  Croft's has "the arête is climbed from its base."

I was yesterday hiking with my 73-year-old Mom in the Kananaskis and there were all these young fuckers with their toys.  Cameras, phones, GPSs, walking sticks, pack covers, MP3 players (why?--
mountain silence is music), printouts of trail maps, etc.  It seemed like most of them were making
sure that reality conformed to its electronic, reported, printed etc counterparts, than vice versa.  The Filth and I once in Vegas got four pitches up something which had a chimney with 50 foot runouts, no bolts, and no bolted anchors.  We managed to convince ourselves through focus on the topo that we were, in fact, on a bolted face route before realising, no, we're idiots, we are not on route.

And here's the lesson: we interact with what we bring.  If you have a map, you'll stare at it.  If you have a phone, you'll answer it.  If you have a GPS (God help you) your waypoints will be much more interesting than the route or the wildflowers. If you have a watch, you'll be noting the time.   If you have a Thingy, you'll be sexting your sweetie or spraying to your buddiesninstead of watching the sunset.

I'm a total pussy and I havn't soloed anything really hard, but I must say that the most memorable climbing has always been freesolos.  Not because of fear (if it's scary, you shouldn't be soloing it), but because all distractions disappear.  There is nothing except you and the rock.  So the climb fills your head.  I can tell you every move on the Snowpatch route despite having done it only once, three years ago, whilst with sport projects I need to do them like 7 times to remember sequences.  Why is surfing the world's second-coolest activity? Because there is nothing between you and the ocean's power.  It is experience, reduced to its essence.

I thought about this often. In the Creek, you meet these Colorado yuppie cunts who whine about their jobs but drive $50,000 trucks. Hello, who the fuck needs $50,000 worth of truck?  Chains and snow tires are WAY cheaper than 4x4 and an immense cargo box is a mere $1,000, much cheaper than than gas etc involved in driving a rig.  $15,000 worth of used Subaru could translate into months of stress-free dirtbagging.

I have never driven anything other than shitboxes-- my most recent, a Yaris, is only 7 years old, the newest car I have ever owned-- and while the inevitable social pressures exert themselves on me (it feels way cooler to drive a big-assed truck or fancy Benz or whatever my Dad currently has, because, let's face it, we are inherently status-sensitive and cars are the second-biggest status marker)-- I take the long view: bad cars = good times.  And so it is with anything else techy.  Objects = distraction.  Get rid of it.  A GPS is not necessary unless you are on an Alaska glacier at night in a snowstorm.  Who needs a watch?  Who cares whether you've walked 3 or 3 1/2 hours?  The most useful item on a watch is an alarm clock.  Altimeters-- if you aren't in the Himalaya, not necessary.  Satellite phone or texting Thingy? Not on a 50 Classics climb.  Google Earth maps loaded onto a GPS-linked phone? How about we just look around us instead?  Plus, as soon as you have your backups, your guard goes down.  I can't imagine cell phone users with reception beng more cautious in the backcountry than those without...

Anyway, Hink and I basically ended up looking only at a map.  The objects stayed stashed in pack.  To me this was the lesson: less is more.  What you bring defines and limits the experience.

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