How I Fell In Line

People are sheeple.

What a hysterically boring statement! But sometimes, obnoxious overgeneralizations are true and we only have ourselves to blame. Indeed! We walk in the same paths, do what’s safe, follow the herd mentality and only climb on routes that get at least 3.5 out of 4 stars in whatever guidebook it is that we are currently pouring over, like hot wax on naked buttocks.

“NOT ME!” you say. Well … okay. Why not? It’s possible. I suppose there is a chance that you could be a think-for-yourself-er. But then you wouldn’t be buying guidebooks or reading these eBlasts for smart opinions you can later pass off as your own.

Just yesterday, I was in the car with El Jefe, aka Boss Gringo, and the newbie-intern du jour, some guy in California cut-offs named Glenn, and we were talking about this thing we “do.” You know, climbing

“Yeah, I love being up on a ledge, two thousand feet up. The freedom. I love it!” Jefe said.

“Yeah, me too,” I said.

“Yeah, me too,” Glenn said.

“Yeah, I like being up there,” Boss Gringo said, “just like I hate being claustrophobic. Caves. I hate going into caves!”

“Oh my god, me too,” I said.

“Yeah, me too,” Intern said.

“Yeah, it’s crazy. Maybe it’s why I pole vaulted in college. To escape the earth.  Go up, you know?” Boss Gringo said.

“I pole vaulted in high school too,” Intern said.

“Yeah, I pole vaulted too,” I said.

We were drones, fully operating robots with a .01 percent chromosomal difference between each other. But that .01 percent explains everything: Why an engineer would forsake a career in science to become an intern bitch at our underground art project, or how a New-Age Guru became a Lone Star Alpha Male, or even how and why we were all drawn to climbing in the first place.

Jefe was talking about a picture of a distant mountain named Mount Trophy-chunga-lama that he had recently seen. There were hordes of would-be summitters milling around the basecamp of this one well-known peak. But just outside the circus tents were dozens of perfectly unclimbed and outstanding mountains and walls in the relatively unimpressive 5,000-meter range.

“Why aren’t people climbing those?” Jefe demanded. I looked at him blankly and changed the subject to a more genial discussion topic, like abortion rights or something.

I don’t know anything about mountaineering other than I tried it for three years and found a prohibitive dearth of hot females in Boulder shorts and sports bras, which is one reason why I got into bolt clipping and guitar playing. And though the change in scenery from Teton to “tetons” filled my soul with glee, the essence of climbing behaviors and sheeple mannerisms was no different.

People see a star rating in a guidebook and turn their aesthetic sensibilities off. Instead of choosing lines based on natural intuition, they follow someone else’s manual that tells them what to think. It doesn’t have to be through a guidebook either. The power of chat is equally relevant. I’ve noticed that women in particular are drawn toward routes that other women have done. Gumbies like routes other gumbies have done. Professionals like routes that Chris Sharma has done. And everyone likes routes that I have done. That’s because they think, “Oh, if AB can climb that, then it can’t be that hard!” It’s sad, but true. Ask anyone.

When someone forges a path, and says it’s safe for the rest of the group to come, even if the path is circuitous and lacking scenery, people happily walk in the footsteps.

“Super-mega-classic” is an adjective that gets thrown around by first ascentionists and parroted by the drones that repeat the route. But the adjective has nothing to do with quality of climbing, necessarily. It has to do with how well known the route name becomes.

We love super-mega-classics for no other reason than we like making trophies out of our goals and achievements. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that, first and foremost, people are motivated to climb for pure reasons: because it’s thrilling, gives purpose, is baller, fun, etc. But under that thin veneer is a motivation to only climb on those routes that others know.

“Oh, you climbed That? I hear that That is amaaaazing. Proud, bro.”

It makes sense. Climbing requires quite a bit of effort, money, free time, and work—it would start to seem like a bad rip-off if we didn’t get out of it what we all really want in the first place: affirmation and peer respect.

That’s why climbing Everest will always be more sought after than establishing new routes on something called Peak 5678G.

This topic of the herd mentality has been on my mind recently since I have twice tried a route that others have insisted that I “really should do.” But I have no idea why. The route has drilled pockets, sharp holds, glued-on death blocks, poor bolt placements and a run-out slab that is perpetually covered in dirt. People have told me it’s “Good,” and after hearing it for so long, maybe I’ve started to believe them. What does that say about me?

The worst part is that, even though this climb sucks, I’m still going to do it. But I have no idea why.