Beware the People Person

Posted on: May 5, 2008

Tom Slater

If I end up with another climbing partner who turns out to be a “people person” I’m going to rip their head off.

Once in the High Sierra, while rambling through the Cathedral Range on a quest for as many summits as I could manage, I had a partner tell me that they wanted to go home after we had only climbed one peak. When I asked why, they replied, “Because it’s raining.”


Of course, only later do I find out that she didn’t like sloshing up wet granite just to bag summits. It wasn’t “fun”. It was about the “journey” for her.


I just wish they’d stop ambushing me and tell me up front that they don’t care about getting to the summit, that they’re mostly looking forward to sipping hot chocolate and toasting S’mores and playing cards out in the woods. That kind of honesty would save us all a lot of headache.

Another time I had a successful 3 day, 6 summit spree on the East Side. While driving back at 1a.m. I asked my very chatty partner if he could drive. My eyes wouldn’t stay open and I didn’t want to ruin a good trip by wrecking my car, or killing us.

He gave me an enthusiastic “Sure!” and we switched places. I buckled up, wadded up my sweater for a pillow and curled up against the window for a nap.

“What are you doing?” he asked me, his enthusiasm now gone.

“Going to sleep.”

“You can’t do that. You have to stay up and TALK to me...”

See what I mean.

It’s like they’re everywhere these days. And every one of them sold themselves as being rough and tough, real outdoor types, climbers to the bone. Not one said, “Look Tom, I’m not really concerned about getting to the top. It’s about the journey for me. I want to have fun.”

What gives? Isn’t getting to the top fun? I know that the climbing media is pushing this new Light, Fast and Friendly climbing, but I had no idea that it was taking root.

Why can’t they just leave us to our heavy packs, haul bags, and “summit or bust” attitudes? I, for one, feel like a real man when I lumber through the wilderness with a pack that weighs as much as a refrigerator. Not everyone can do that you know. And what’s with free climbing the grade VI aid routes in a day? Quit ripping off the aid routes. Where’s your creativity? Why not just go do a long free first ascent instead? Plus, don’t they know that they can carry more gear in a haul bag than they can in a tiny little day pack? It’s just common sense.

These light and fast guys miss out on a lot too, including bivouacs! That’s the whole point of doing a big wall anyway. The solitude of a night up on the wall under the stars, far away from the hot chocolate-drinking, card-playing, S’more-toasting pansies.

Maybe it’s because I’m old school, but things seem to be getting out of control. Guys are getting softer. Once, when I was a youngster, on my first trip up a 14,000 foot peak, my boot sole came unglued halfway up the12-mile approach. My two older partners looked at my boot, looked at me and said,

”Bummer. Give us the rack. We’ll see you in a couple of days.”

I opened my pack, gave them the rack, and that was that. They went up the trail and I headed back down to the car.

Did I cry? Did I whine? Did I complain? Hell, no. I hiked 5 miles back to the car, drove into Bishop, bought new boots, dove back to the trailhead, hiked 12 miles up to Sam Mac Meadow and passed out. Two days later I had my first 14,000 foot peak bagged.

Now, just for fun, let’s replay that scenario. But this time, instead of 3 real men, let’s add a people person to the team...

Climber One: ”Guys, my boot sole is coming unglued!

Climber Two: ”No way. Man, let’s all hike back to the car together and reassess the situation. Maybe we’ll do this another time.”

Climber Three: ”What the hell are you talking about? I’m not hiking 5 miles back down to the car just to hold this guy’s hand!”

Climber Two: “Surely you don’t suggest that we just leave him!?”

Climber Three: ”That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. Are you insane! Give him the car key. He can go buy new boots and catch up with us later. He’s a big boy.”

Climber Two: ”You know, what you just said hurt my feelings. It’s not the summit that counts you know, it’s the journey. And...”

And you get the picture. Did these guys get to the summit? Not in this lifetime. Climber three soloed it and the other two went back to camp and drank hot chocolate, played cards, and toasted S’mores. Then they probably went into town and watched "Brokeback Mountain" and shared popcorn.

I highly doubt that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay talked about how they felt on their way to the summit of Everest. I bet it was pretty damn hard talking at all considering the oxygen masks and all. But did that stop them? Was it all about the journey? Or was it about getting to the top?


And did they travel fast and light? Ha ha, not hardly. But I guarantee you that after it was all over, their friendship was stronger because of their experience, because of their success.

You see, it’s the old school guys like me, with our heavy packs, hard words, and summit-or-bust attitudes, that are forging the real friendships. We forge them out of sweat, blood and cuss words. They’re cast iron. And when we’ve been to the top and back, we’ll have the scars to prove it.