Ain't No Social Butterfly
At a cocktail party or other social event, I'm the guy standing alone in a corner, nursing his drink and looking distant and disinterested. At a professional seminar, I'm one of the people who heads straight for the back of the room and who finds a way to slip out when the speaker splits people into task-focused groups. When SPers in my area got together over some beers to talk about mountains and whatever else, I knew I was out; had they been planning a hike or climb and then burgers and beers afterward, that would have worked for me, but I wasn't walking cold into a social setting with people I hadn't met before.
Long story short-- I'm not into meeting strangers. Heck, I'm not really into spending time with acquaintances and relatives beyond the few I truly like. In a lot of ways, I'm downright antisocial, which probably explains my strong pull to wilderness mountains.
So it was with no small amount of nervousness that I made plans to meet with thephotohiker (Mike) in Wyoming last summer and spend a few days together in my favorite mountains, the Absaroka Range. Despite my antisocial tendencies, I actually get along with most people just fine when I have to, so I didn't worry that we would spend a few days of tension together because of disagreements in outlook or personality, but I couldn't help but wonder how awkward it would be if we had little in common, nothing real to talk about, or if we just downright didn't much like each other.
It wasn't the only time I've met up with another SP member, but the other times have been day outings. Last spring, I spent some time toproping and trad climbing in the local area with another member. We enjoyed the outings, sharing many a good laugh and having some fun climbs, but his interests were heading toward multi-pitch leads while mine ran more to scrambling and technical climbing that I could do just with my hands and feet, not because of some sense of purity but because of a preference for simplicity. We didn't resume climbing together after our individual summer travels ended. More recently, I met another SP member for a hike in Shenandoah National Park. Although he is more experienced and accomplished a climber than I am, I felt we had much in common regarding the types of mountains we like and why we like them. I hope we get together again.
But the bottom line is that if you meet someone for a day and you don't really hit it off, you have a good time anyway, shake hands, and head back home. And that's that. But it's not that simple when you're spending a few days almost 2000 miles from home with someone you haven't met in person before. Thus, I was a little apprehensive.
It wasn't just the concern that we might have nothing in common. Mike is a little more than 20 years my elder (though you wouldn't know it from hiking and climbing with him), and so I wondered if he might see me as a kid and be somewhat condescending, especially on the mountains (he didn't and wasn't, or at least didn't show it!). And for my part, I wondered what I'd be like if Mike wasn't able to maintain a pace I'd find suitable. Would I get impatient or frustrated? Would I become condescending in my own way? My brothers and wife will tell you I am not easy to hike and climb with; I have a tendency to leave people behind or expect them magically to rise to my ability level if they're going to be with me. I hoped I wouldn't be like that around someone I didn't know, but I couldn't be sure (no need to have worried, I found-- Mike seems to have some mountain goat in his lineage somewhere).
So we met on Sunday, July 8 at Pahaska Lodge, just outside the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. We got acquainted, had dinner, and made plans for the next day. Jaded mountaineers we were, not even getting up to rush to the restaurant window to view the grizzly people had spotted across the road. So far, so good.
Into the Mountains
Questions...and Some Answers
Some events that have occurred on the site recently have left me questioning my own continuing interest and participation in the site. While those events did not directly involve me, they did involve people I like and respect here. And one of those people, in private conversations, gave me quite a bit to consider.
Among the things I have been asking myself since then:
• Why do I add pages to the site? Is it for attention, for votes, for personal enjoyment, or for helping build the site? Is it a combination of some or all of those?
• Is anyone really going to use my pages, especially since only a few of them cover “popular” mountains?
• By posting pages on remote and/or little-known mountains in the Rockies, those that mean the most to me, am I potentially doing a disservice to the places that are dearest to me?
I've found these answers to my questions:
• First, I enjoy writing, and I like making pages, especially pages that help me express my passion for the mountains. I like seeing a finished product that I think I worked hard to create. (Fortunately, SP makes it very easy for computer dunces such as myself to make pages.)
• Second, I've learned that the site works. A few weeks ago, I got a message from another member saying he had traveled across the country to visit a range for which I'd made a page. He said his trip out there was partially inspired by my descriptions of the area and told me that my descriptions had been spot-on. If my pages interest just one person in taking a look at the kinds of mountains I love, and, moreover, if that person finds a love of those places as well, then my efforts have been a success. It's not about gratifying my ego but rather about knowing there are others who actually do use the site as it's meant to be used. Now I know I'm not the only one who's read a page here and found himself driven to visit that place.
• Third, I haven’t noticed the Climber's Logs for the lesser-known mountains I've posted getting many entries. Most have no entries but mine. So although that doesn't mean no one else climbs those peaks or that few others will, it certainly suggests that my posting those pages isn't going to cause those mountains to be loved to death anytime soon (and actually being atop them confirms the notion that the masses aren't visiting them).
• Finally, and most importantly, there are people I've met here solely because of the pages I (and they) have made. That's one of the beauties of SP. We have about every imaginable type of climbing represented here, and the format allows people of common interests to find each other. I love wilderness mountains, especially in the Montana and Wyoming Rockies, and I don't care whether climbing them means just hiking up them or scrambling/climbing on nasty rock. My activities on this site have enabled me to meet a small, like-minded contingent here.
And that last point brings me back to how things went with Mike.
From Controversy to Friendship
Mike and I "met" after I posted a trip report about Blodgett Canyon to his Bitterroots page. In the TR, I said I'd found the Bitterroots to be somewhat "underwhelming" (though I still maintain that I was misunderstood and that my overall points were positive ones!). Well, Mike and some others familiar with the Bitterroots got on my case pretty quickly. But we all had a civil discussion rather than some electronic shouting match of the type that dismayingly shows up here far too often, and in the process, I think we discovered some kindred spirits-- souls moved by the beauty, wildness, and solitude of wilderness mountains rather than by checklists of one sort or another. Four different people of different ages and experience levels came to respect one another after seeing in each other the same passions that moved themselves. It therefore made perfect sense for Mike to join me in a place like the Absarokas, for they are mountains the likes of which draw both of us with what is almost a siren song.
Had I never contributed to the site and remained just an onlooker, I never would have known some of the great people I have met here. There are several members here-- most of them probably know who they are, and I won't give them unwanted attention by listing them here or risk offending someone else by accidental omission-- that I look forward to meeting this upcoming summer out in Montana or at some other time in the future. Before I joined this site and became active on it, it was rare for me to meet such people. So the contact with other members, and the opportunity to forge productive friendships with them, has become the main value of this site for me.
The Meaning of the Mountains
Sometimes, the most frightening thing in life can be the thought that one is alone-- alone not in the physical or social sense but in the sense of being the only one to experience certain thoughts, fears, and aspirations. As an English teacher, I try to leave my better students with this answer to the question of why we bother to read literature when it seemingly has no practical value, especially in a world that constantly becomes faster, busier, and noisier: we read so that we know we are not alone. In identifying with certain characters, situations, themes, and authors, we receive the comfort of knowing that we are not the only ones ever to have experienced "that."
I have similar thoughts about mountaineering. Even though I find recreation and great scenery in the mountains, those are not the primary reasons I go to them. I can go to any number of places in this beautiful, geographically diverse country to find those things-- beaches, forests, deserts, swamps, grasslands, badlands, etc. And it is not just the challenge or fun of climbing; I climb at my local crags and enjoy that, but what I get from that comes nowhere near what I get from the mountains. Put briefly, the mountains fill me with reverence and awe and the sense of momentarily being part of something far bigger, more powerful, and more important than myself and the human world; part of something simpler, purer, and wilder. The mountains are both inspiring and cathartic for me. I have often wondered if they are like that for anyone else or if I am the sole practitioner of some weird religion.
No two people will ever feel exactly the same way about any particular subject, but I did get the sense that Mike's thoughts about the mountains and reasons for exploring them are pretty close to mine. Perhaps that was what generated an interest in climbing together in the first place. In any event, it did not take long to find out, for example, that we'd much rather be on a wilderness mountain with a great view of the Grand Teton than actually be on the Grand Teton. It did not take long to realize that being in country roamed by grizzly bears and wolves somehow heightened our senses and enhanced our enjoyment of the mountains. And it did not take long for me to realize that it would have been great to have run into Mike or someone else like him a long time ago.
So I learned, with a tiny bit of regret but mostly appreciation and relief, that I was not alone. And I learned that although my solitary nature will probably always prefer being alone amidst the majesty of the mountains, there are other people whose company there I can enjoy just as much as my own. Friends in high places are great friends indeed.
To Be Continued...
It pleased and relieved me to learn not too long afterward that Mike had enjoyed the Wyoming trip at least as much as I had. In addition, he extended his graciousness and generosity by inviting me to stay at his home with him and his wife during my upcoming Montana trip, and I eagerly accepted the offer, which will also give Mike a chance to "set me straight" about his beloved Bitterroots. Summer can't come soon enough, and I eagerly await the chance to climb with Mike again and to meet some of my other Montana friends while I'm out there. And it will give me a much-needed chance for escape, reflection, and recharging before my wife gives birth to our third child in August!