Schralp It, but Add a Pinch of Humble Pie

Post by blogger | May 13, 2010      

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.



30 Responses to “Schralp It, but Add a Pinch of Humble Pie”

  1. Jordan May 13th, 2010 10:24 am

    Loved the post Lou. I may want a signed, framed, copy.

  2. Lou May 13th, 2010 11:21 am

    I was majorly humbled by Denali the first time I was up there, and fully expect it to happen again. But I do hope my blog gear works when it’s 30 below zero (grin), even if my knees don’t.

  3. Thomas B May 13th, 2010 11:40 am

    sometimes ego is necessary to actually get something done( especially involving “the conquest of the useless”) but yeah it gets old when it stays turned on 24/7 and becomes all that is.
    I have always contended that: Humble pie should be consumed in small regular doses, for the benefit of all and long life of the consumer…….for some reason no one wants to sponsor that, lol.

  4. Evan May 13th, 2010 11:44 am

    I’m guilty of hating a little too much on “professional” and/or competetive atheletes. I’m quick to seek creative reminders for how lonely it is at the top. Thank you Lou for validating my gripes! I can’t resist calling the BS card, sensing great discontinuity in what is often being portrayed by marketing. I’m proud to say humility has greatly influenced my ski equipment purchases – Go Voile! (no sponsored riders, designed for human powered BC, snowboard PC, made in USA)

    Del the funky homosapian sums up my mountaineering humility well.

    “Life is a blast if ya know what ya doin, betta know whacha doin before your life get ruined”
    “Life is a thrill if ya skill is developed,
    if ya ain’t got no skill or trade, shut the hell up”

    -weekend warrior – “pow on a tuesday?….Where’s my unemployment check?”

  5. Bill May 13th, 2010 11:57 am

    I too liked this post, as I think everyone wrestles with the same question, even we desk jockies. I think it’s hard to draw the line on where to end the list of firsts, but I also agree it is getting overdone. My opinion on your posts, and especially on the trip reports is that the more exciting the better, so don’t worry about your egomania. All the better for us living vicariously through your exploits.

  6. Lou May 13th, 2010 12:09 pm

    Bill, really good point. It’s true that when you tell a story, you should be allowed some leeway on where you place emphasis etc as they idea is to have fun, entertain, and stuff like that. Otherwise it would just be dry newspaper reporting. I truly believe that one can write with more braggadocio than they might actually feel, just for effect. On the other hand, I really like it when I see mountaineering writing that talks about the struggle for something truly difficult to achieve, and how the mountain humbled the mountaineer as a result. But I only like that kind of thing when the protagonist is good at their craft, not some sort of gumbie going up there half cocked. Those stories just make me shake my head and I don’t find them that amusing.

  7. tal May 13th, 2010 12:30 pm

    being a “local” up here, we tolerate climbers. we look forward to the money they bring into town just as much as the day basecamp shuts down. most climbers that come here fit the typical trustifarian stereotypes, swagger through town like they own the place, and then leave without leaving a tip. alaskans don’t need to spew their stories and accomplishments over the web to gain recognition. they accumulate them through the humble and hard lives they choose to live on a daily basis – building remote cabins, hunting or fishing trips, snowmobile or atv or boat or plane epics……the web is still a novelty here, had by those who visit the public library. the main source of spew comes from your barstool, imprinted with your signature after years of your ass sitting on it. for those of you who can’t read through this, it means that people up here don’t spew….they become involved within the community the old fashioned way. if wildsnow is wondering how to spew in talkeetna or on the web and still remain humble after being allowed (or not) to climb Denali, then leave a signed picture or memento in the roadhouse after ordering the half….not the full standard.

  8. Lou May 13th, 2010 12:55 pm

    Tal, nope, I’m not wondering how to spew and once I step foot in AK I’m already humbled before I even get into the backcountry. So the lecture is appreciated but probably not necessary.

    On the other hand, I’m looking forward to a wonderful trip in our beautiful and exciting Alaskan mountains. Emphasis on the word _our_, as in everyone. And I intend to share about the trip with my readers, but will do so in a way I think you’ll have no problem with.

    Thanks for dropping by, how are things at the library (grin)?

    P.S., we are in no way swaggering in expecting to do any “firsts,” so please don’t get the wrong impression. Shoot, I’ll be happy if I just get to the summit and back down alive, via the easiest route possible if that’s what it takes. In fact, mentioning Denali in this post was just an example, not the focus.

  9. Ron Rash May 13th, 2010 1:25 pm

    Hi Lou,

    I really enjoyed your thoughts on firsts. I hope I did not start this discussion with my comment on wanting to hear about Jordan’s first this past Tuesday on North Maroon. At my age I just wished I had some of Jordan’s firsts to tell my grand children. I’m truly envious of Jordan’s firsts.

    Have a great Denali trip and be careful of sunburn which may be your biggest challenge.

    Now I’m sitting here looking at my SPOT satellite personal tracker and trying to figure out how to keep it from coming on by itself in my pack. Maybe tape and tupperware?

    Take care, Ron

  10. Christian May 13th, 2010 1:35 pm

    How, or if, one relates their accomplishments or failures to others merely reflects the doer’s internal perspective; and is not, and shouldn’t be, a testimony to the actual worth of those actions.

  11. Lou May 13th, 2010 1:53 pm

    Ron, nope, Jordan’s “first” didn’t instigate this, just the overall trends of discussion. In case anyone is wondering what we’re talking about, the first generation SPOT messenger units are inadvertently triggered by objects in your pack pressing on them. This can even happen to the 911 button, and did happen to Jordan a few days ago which in turn caused some consternation on the part of his contacts and did result in a mountain rescue page (but not a field callout).

    Luckily the situation was quickly resolved as Jordan and his companions were on their way out and got to the road just as a county person got there to check up on what was going on. Needless to say, this was embarrassing and indeed humbling, but mostly it shows that the first generation SPOT units are pieces of crap that should be recalled, as every time they false trigger they result in man hours spent, unnecessary worry and stress, and more.

    Can you tell I’m pissed?

    Louie modified his first gen SPOT with a huge wad of tape to keep this from happening, but should we expect everyone out there to do that? Amazing they didn’t recall those things. Just amazing.

    Luckily they seem to have fixed this problem with the new model SPOT. But there are zillions of the old model still out there.

    I was going to throw up a blog post about this, but this comment will do.

  12. James May 13th, 2010 2:30 pm

    Sometimes I wonder how many mountains would get climbed, rivers paddled, etc, if it had to be done with anonymity….

  13. Lou May 13th, 2010 3:09 pm

    Elk climb around a lot and wade rivers, I’m pretty sure they don’t have an ego but instead are hungry most of the time, and wanting something else if they’re a bull during the rut.

  14. Brittany May 13th, 2010 5:40 pm

    Great post Lou! And a great reminder. In a sport that requires some ego and is full of egos itself, we need to remember to be humble. Our friend, Jack Hannan, who died in an avalanche in April on Mount Currie was the essence of a strong, talented ski mountaineer who was also unbelievably humble and kind. He will forever be a role model for me, balancing accomplishments with humility.

  15. Frank K May 13th, 2010 6:32 pm

    Humbleness is just one of many great attributes to aspire to. As the saying goes, “Sometimes it’s how you play the game.” In stage 13 of the 2001 Tour De France, Lance Armstrong’s main competition, Jan Ullrich, crashed and fell. Say what you will about Armstrong, at that moment he showed a huge amount of class, honor, sportsmanship and integrity by slowing down and waiting for Ullrich to catch up. In the end, they battled it out head to head and Armstrong still won. People would think less of him today had he simply hit the gas and crushed Ullrich as soon as he went down. I’d rather come in second feeling as though I played the game the right way than be first feeling as though I’d played it the wrong way.

  16. Lou May 13th, 2010 6:38 pm

    Wow Frank, great comment!

  17. Matt Kinney May 13th, 2010 10:52 pm

    Not sure if you are venting or preparing lou… :biggrin:

    Here the 10-day discussion to worry you more from NCEP. Perhaps you are already clued into some links……..

    And the NWS just added Denali above 7000′ to their daily forecast, twice a day….

    18 days left till no showers in Talkeetna.

  18. Lou May 14th, 2010 4:35 am

    Hey Matt…. the get-ready has definitly taken over our lives. But local events made me think about philosophical issues and of course those thoughts apply to any mountaineering, hence Denali.

    Thanks for the links, hadn’t seen that NWS had that…


  19. Kidd May 14th, 2010 8:34 am

    No you can’t be humble. Its the nature of this type of ego to be overly concerned with pointing the spotlight on ones perceived accomplishments, this I believe stems from a deep seeded need to be recongnized in a sea of humnity.
    Its like my friend said at one of those film fests when this young man was showing his slides, ‘ enough about me, lets talk about me.’

  20. Talkeetna Tourist May 14th, 2010 11:08 am

    tal – as a “local” I assume you mean Native American, like an Athabaskan, Inuit or Eskimo?

  21. e May 14th, 2010 4:21 pm

    This is a great topic for the ski mountaineering community, Lou.

    It comes down to intention. Are you talking about your accomplishments to inform, or are you talking about them to make it clear to the other person that you are of such and such level of skill, have had x number of significant experiences, etc? I feel that anyone who is talking about their experiences to self advertise or paint themselves in a more positive light than the context of the conversation calls for is stroking their ego, and it tells more about how they feel about themselves (ie insecure) than anything else. A lot of people talk about their mountain experiences to try and convince you you how cool or burley they really are. Unless of course if you are a pro mountaineer, then I guess you have to talk to make a living.

    About a decade ago, when I was a full time ski bum (I still consider myself a ski bum, but am fairing better now with steady income, which even though i ski less I feel better about life) I was washing dishes at night at Snowbird. During the day, I skied with some of the legends in our sport, including heli ski guides, Teton Gravity Research skiers, and the first guys to ever do gap jumps in Little Cottonwood Canyon. These guys just plain did not talk about their accomplishments and getting them to do so was like pulling teeth. It was inspirational. I came to realize that when you spend days or weeks in a cold icy environment, dodging avalanches and skiing powder, you can internalize that experience and keep it sacred by not spraying about it. That way it always stays pure in your heart. Not that everyone has to have this type of outlook, but this is my mantra for keeping the fire alive to go out and receive the mountains’ good tidings.

  22. Bar Barrique May 14th, 2010 9:43 pm

    “I’ll quit skiing and become a monk”, like that’s gonna happen :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin:
    Up in NW B.C. backcountry skiers are very thinly spread out, so mostly it is a personal journey (with a few select companions), though, if we do happen to meet other skiers, it is nice as we probably know each other, and, if we have just met that is nice too. Enjoy your personal journey, though I will be watching.


  23. Thomas B May 14th, 2010 10:17 pm

    “tal” sounds like a cheechacko, don’t mind him, it wears off of newcomers quickly.

  24. BreckJack May 15th, 2010 7:11 am

    Lou – Safe travels for you and the team to AK. Once again your humbleness ,yet ability to discuss hard to put in words topics is why I come to your blog. I am more your age so ski mountaineering helps me to accomplish my dreams, share experiences with friends and contribute to a mountain culture and ethic. It isn’t so much about the accomplishments although if asked I kind of enjoy telling the stories. Regardless if you summit the big one, you will have great stories to share. Good luck!

  25. Lou May 15th, 2010 9:29 am

    Thanks Jack, we’ll try to let the mountain do the talking…

  26. Jim Knight May 17th, 2010 6:41 pm

    Regarding humility and firsts:
    I like Warren Harding’s comment when he climbed the Nose route on El Cap.

    “Well, it seemed to me that El Capitan was in a lot better shape than I was when I pulled over the top.”

    We’re just dust in the wind.

  27. Lou May 17th, 2010 6:47 pm

    Nice on Jim, thanks!

  28. Jim Knight May 17th, 2010 7:17 pm

    Thanks. Warren was like no other. We could use more like him.
    Good luck up there. “Watch yer topknot, pilgrim”
    Even a mediocre day climbing or skiing with my son(s) is better than my best days by myself or with my pards.
    You are one fortunate bastard.

  29. Ben May 21st, 2010 10:12 pm

    Hey Lou,

    Great post. I often question my motivation for posting online about my mountaineering accomplishments, and that is what I’ve come to realize is at the heart of the issue; motivation and intentionality. Am I posting to provide my community with information and to write about my passions, or in order to gain approval and adoration from my peers? One is a healthy state of the heart, the other is not. Recently I’ve been trying to focus on my intentionality behind posting, as well as the tone of the posts themselves. The line behind healthy reporting and attention seeking ego is often times very hard to recognize, especially in yourself. Truth is, the truly respected “protagonists” are those who get the job done, but also show enough humility in reporting their feat to deserve being looked up to. Great athletes who are also cocky don’t illicit much respect in my opinion, but the ones who can maintain an attitude of humility along with their success, those are the real heroes. Thanks for the post!

  30. Lou May 21st, 2010 11:03 pm

    Ben, I think it’s frequently a combination of motivations, and the important thing is that the better motivations dominate.

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