Here I sit, hand bandaged in gauze and cotton, temporarily sidelined and forcibly inactive. The slightest miscalculation and most seemingly insignificant accident and I’m left with a torn ligament in my thumb, and it’s resulting surgical repair. After another summer of movement and adventure, I anticipated returning to a relatively sedentary winter existence, one with an abundance of reflection and introspective time, but this is hardly what I expected. A sense of déjà-vu pervades as I re-live Liz’s recent injury and remind myself that life is full of surprises, their being good or bad depends entirely on perspective, which in turn itself relies upon your grasp of reality, your worldview and your version of sanity. So as I recline with the subdued awareness I will not be climbing for months, that my work and play in the mountains will be limited equally, I cannot help but feel excitement and optimism for the future, and know I might be a little insane for doing so.
We all follow a path, whether one laid before us, traveled by many, or one blazed on our own. In fact we will at times follow both, each full of its own pitfalls, traps, triumphs, hardships and rewards. We are all born into the river of life as bubbles subject to the ebb and flow of those around us. Together we experience the current and path that time has shaped before us. Just as we cannot choose to avoid the turbulence of this stream of life, we cannot choose where in the river of time we enter, so too we cannot choose to avoid the truths and realities of our time.
Today is a special point in time. As I’ve said before, our current era marks the most turbulent and transformative time Earth may ever see. Indeed if we fail to act now we will be the ones unable to witness the beauty and fragility of this existence called life. Just as millennia have shaped the path of the river, carved it’s course and helped to regulate it’s flow through the nuances and interplay of climate and geography, so too we find ourselves mid stream in existence, caught in the directionless and destructive flow of resources, one which has no end, no purpose, no control.
How we got to this point in time is no mystery. The fault of no one, no blame need be cast, this has been our trajectory for centuries. Civilizations have come and gone, like vernal streams after a storm, some cascading over cliffs while others may pool or join forces to form a larger current. Here now we find ourselves flowing as one. Although we may have gained a global awareness, our stream is so wide and deep, with so many contending currents and tides, that one idea cannot span it all. But our future lays ahead, plain for all to see. Like the calm horizon that foreshadows the waterfall, our destruction of land and depletion of resources is too one-way. We cannot take back the carbon that we burn, we cannot replace the forest we destroy, but change is constant as we continue to merge and become one. The ocean awaits as we push forward, it being our choice as to its health and fertility. Currently all that awaits us are vast dead zones, gyres of waste and a poisoned desert of our own making.
While many of us stare on in horror, shocked into inaction and seemingly caught in the current, simultaneously incredulous and aware of the horizon that is looming, we should know there is indeed another way, and we need not feel caught in a river of someone else’s making. Right now many others are beginning to shape a new path, to modify the current and create change that will shape our ocean into a sea of dreams.
As climbers we are quite literally at the forefront of interaction with the natural world. While I may be cynical towards the pervasive sentiment of climbers having some sort of heightened connection to the natural world, indeed this is so. As a demographic we live and recreate in, around, and with nature more closely then just about anyone else in western civilization. We are the privileged, the aware, the ones who push our physical limits and test our mental boundaries in some of the most challenging and remote landscapes. We are litterally at the edge of existence between human and natural interaction, tangibly at the peak of experience for this world. I cannot speak to the understanding of an insect that has climbed onto the pedal of a flower, but for us humans, as a good friend puts it best, it’s hard to feel like a failure when you’re standing on top of a mountain.
But our choice to accept the status quo, to live in the current stream of existence as all others around us do diminishes this relationship with nature we cherish so much. We are climbers and we are better then most others. Our values, morals, and ethics should reflect our strict understanding of the fragility of the environment and our place as stewards in it. Leave No Trace does not stop at the wilderness boundary. Our casual acceptance of the use of fossil fuels and industrialized transportation not only degrades the environment that which we treasure, it degrades the spirit and ethic of our own experience in the mountains as well. Again, as another friend puts it better, if there is a road to the top of a mountain, would you drive to the top? If the road ended half way up, would you begin climbing there? What about if the road only reaches the trailhead, would you drive to its end? And finally, if there were no road, would you still climb the mountain? These questions may seem absurd and obtuse, until you consider the regularity of which we drive or fly thousands of miles to a mountains "base", only to scramble and crawl up its remaining few thousand feet. When looking back at our achievement, the mechanical means far outweigh the human.
This is a call to climbers. It is our responsibility to steward a spiritual and respectful relationship with the mountains, with the wilderness, with the Earth. We cannot do this by driving to the crag, by flying to the Himalaya, or by any means that require oil for transportation. Just as our ethics have evolved to support clean protection and ‘proud’ ground up alpine style, the automobile, the helicopter, and the airplane have no place in our interaction with these places which we hold sacred. For climbers this may sound drastic, but we need only take a look at the current global situation to know civilization is in dire need of drastic and fundamental change. While we as climbers may be used to being seen as bums and living on the fringes of society, this is our time, our opportunity to introduce a worldview and value system badly needed by those with whom we share this Earth.
Now is the time to take our stand. The saving of the earth and the respectful and faithful stewardship of our changing and failing environment is in the hands of us Millenials, the ones so consumed with travel, experience, and recognition. If we as climbers make this choice, our friends, our neighbors, and the world will take notice. We can generate the current that may become a wave, one capable of washing out the current paradigm of speed, chaos, instant gratification and environmental degradation, and at once replace it a new stream of consciousness, a new river of existence. Imagine this wave, this revolution, become inspired by its dream and power and help make it become reality.
As climbers we are leaders, factually and figuratively. It is our time to steward a healthy and responsible interaction with the wall, with wilderness, and with the Earth. This can be done in our climbing and in our every day lives; it can be nurtured in society and in our styles of climbing and mobility. If one thing is clear it’s that the consumption of oil for our transportation to and access of the mountains has no place in our experience. It’s time for climbers to generate a wave, one that embraces adventure at its core, and one that disregards automobiles and industrialized transportation in favor of a more holistic and creative experience.