Slay the pow. Shralp it. Scalp it.
You’ve heard all the spew. Heck, you’ve probably heard it from me.
Yeah, I’ll raise my hand and testify that when my battle of soul vs ego rages, the ego often wins. Shoot, if I’d been a blogger when I was in my 20s, it would have been ugly. Nonetheless, ever since I started climbing in my teens I’ve valued humbleness as perhaps the most important attitude a mountaineer can have — and done my best to cultivate humbleness in my own thoughts and actions. This with mixed results of course, after all, I’m only human and still have testosterone flowing in my blood.
With our upcomming trip to the big one (Denali) I’ve been thinking more than ever about humbleness. Planning a trip with a group of 20 somethings tends to make a seasoned guy like me pay attention to that sort of thing. Denali should only be approached with one attitude, otherwise she bites. Recent trip reports (and lack thereof) here and elsewhere got me thinking about humbleness as well.
The burning question: Can you tout your accomplishments and still be humble?
My feeling about mountaineering is that a degree of brag is totally fine and really part of the sport, especially when it comes to things that are obviously interesting or even inspiring accomplishments. More, if mountaineering is your career, you tout your accomplishments because you’re simply trying to put food on the table. In other words, if our hearts are in the right place, communicating our successes and accomplishments is perfectly fine. This especially true if such communication is done in as humble a fashion as possible. “The peak fell to our skis, we slayed the breakable, shralped the pow…,” nope, not exactly the communication style I’m talking about.
Nothing brings this more into focus than the concept of “firsts.”
Some times people do cool things that perhaps exceed what we thought possible. Those are the best kind of firsts, and I want to know about them. Be it first man on the moon or first free solo of a big huge rock, great. Beyond that, people also come up with ideas for firsts that don’t really progress the state of the art, but are nonetheless fun, inspiring, or just plain cool. First woman to ski all the fourteeners (I’ve been told women and men are supposed to be the same, but I know different, so great); first guy; first person to do them in a 12 month period — stuff like that is great. First person to snowboard all the fourteeners, yeah, I like that one too.
But let’s hope that the human ego doesn’t do to the fourteeners what it has done to Mount Everest. First this, oldest that, youngest this, first with 8 fingers, first in roller skates, first on one ski. If things get to that point with our 14,000-foot peaks I think I’ll quit skiing and become a monk.
Another thing about humbleness, and this seems to be hard for some folks to get, but I believe it can actually be more selfish and ego driven to keep your accomplishments secret than it is to share them. As in “I don’t brag, therefore I’m superior to those who do, but now that we’re on the subject let me tell you that I did ski that line before you did…” In other words, “I’m more humble than you are, nah na nah na na.”
Conversely, if you’re keeping what you do secret because of competition for a first, then perhaps that actually has some validity, though doing so seems a bit over wrought and obsessive for something like mountaineering. After all, as Yvon Chouinard is fond of saying (he paraphrases pioneer climber Lionell Terray), let’s not take ourselves too seriously since we’re nothing more than “conquistadors of the useless.”
So let’s all have fun with “firsts” and enjoy our own and each other’s accomplishments, but at the same time let us keep remembering that most important mountainer’s personality trait of them all: humbleness.
Your comments appreciated, especially regarding the competition for firsts in any arena and what that means.