The Accomplishment Is the Peak, Not the Path Home

Posted on: June 25, 2008


Skimming through the New York Times blogs the other day, I came across this guy's advice on how to bike up steep inclines (blog here). For some reason, the author, Jonathan Vaughters, attempts to make the most ridiculous leap from road biking to trying to explain the motives those of us that climb. Completely absurd! Take a look:

"I just don't get why people are always trying to climb stuff? My son, Charlie, was trying to climb anything that presented a vertical challenge, trees, stairs, legs, animals, whatever, before he could even walk. It was as if some voice deep within his 8-month-old soul was telling him that things were better at altitude. And this continues into adulthood.

"People are always climbing things. Rock climbing, ice climbing, climbing Mount Everest, free climbing, tree climbing, skyscraper climbing and on and on. I mean, with the possible exception of free climbing, isn't the fun part going downhill? The adrenaline-soaked, wind-whipping 'wheeeee' that everyone loves is the downhill part, not the uphill one, right? Climbing is just work."

Clearly, as Jonathan Vaughters expresses in his guest entry on this blog, he just "doesn't get why people are always trying to climb stuff." In his discussion of how to climb hills during bicycle races, he suggests that perhaps people have a desire to move up because there's a ride to be had on the way back down? He excuses free climbers from this somewhat primitive motivation, but holds the rest of us, whether we are attempting to ascend our neighborhood crag or a distant Himalayan peak to the base desire for a ride on the way down. You're right, Mr. Vaughters. You don't quite get it.

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In my experience, climbing is not simply work for its own sake. That essential drive that climbers have takes many forms; a test of one's own endurance and limits, a desire to explore and redefine boundaries of human accomplishment, or simply to stand atop the highest point in the world. Unless you're dragging a sled up behind you, the climb is about moving upwards, not the trip back down. It seems as though even Mr. Vaughters' examples manage to undercut his point. Skyscraper climbing? Does one really climb a skyscraper just to enjoy an epic elevator ride back to street-level (probably in custody)? Hardly. The accomplishment is in the peak, not the path home. Climbing records are defined by first ascents; the struggle upwards is where the challenge lies, and only through challenge can the sense of accomplishment be achieved.

Most of us cannot deny that the "adrenaline-soaked, wind-whipping 'wheeeeea'" is fun, but from the perspective of the climber, the ride down is not the point. Perhaps Mr. Vaughters and his fellow bike riders only endure gaining altitude in order to cruise down the far side of the hill, but climbers ascribe a different value to an ascent. We find joy in the "work", the challenge and the accomplishment. Perhaps it is because we still hear the voice that tells us to aspire to altitude that we do, in fact, love the "uphill part".

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