Friends in High Places

Friends in High Places

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling

Ain't No Social Butterfly

Breccia Cliffs of Mount Sublette, WyomingMy kind of social setting...

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

Hoyt PeakHoyt Peak from the northeast slopes of Avalanche Peak-- We found the climb easier than expected but still loved it, and we headed over to Avalanche Peak afterward. It was a great day, and a good start to mountaineering together. Hoyt Peak Trip Report

Sublette PeakSublette Peak-- picture by thephotohiker. This one got the better of us (trip report); the rock was horribly rotten and kept turning us back about 100' below the summit. The fog that wrapped the mountain while we were up there kept us from seeing more than 10-15 yards above us, further thwarting our efforts to find a route up. Another day...

Austin PeakAustin Peak's tundra heaven-- The good thing about our failed attempt of Sublette Peak was that it left us with the time and energy to hike up Austin in the afternoon. Austin is a broad, plateau-like peak along the Continental Divide and abutting the Teton Wilderness, one of the wildest tracts in the Lower 48. Austin Peak Trip Report
Buffalo Fork Peak-- True SummitBreccia Peak and more tundra heaven-- Breccia was our final summit during our trip together, and as unique and beautiful as each of the others was. It was my kind of mountain: a ridge traverse with some Class 3 scrambling, cliff edges yielding precipitous drops causing that mix of fear and awe one feels when leaning over such edges, tundra meadows filled with colorful wildflowers creating an impression of some kind of alpine paradise, and views deep into the most remote country in the Lower 48 (the Thorofare region of Yellowstone and the Absarokas). Breccia Peak Trip Report

Questions...and Some Answers

Bob & Jay on Breccia TundraJay (left) and I on Breccia Peak-- photo by Mike Hoyt.
The  Crux  on HoytHoyt on Hoyt!
EmergenceA light shines.

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!
Pinnacle ButtesThe End! (Pinnacle Buttes, sunset, from Brooks Lake)


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-20 of 48
Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Feb 6, 2008 1:39 pm - Voted 10/10

Required Reading for your Students

Beautifully expressed piece on the relationship between who you are, your love of the outdoors and what has come of your participation on this site. I'll bet you reflect the sentiments and views of many more people on this site than you realize. You should fit this article into one of your lesson plans!

I like your idea of why "real time" literature is still so important in today's "virtual time" world oriented towards passive forms of entertainment.


Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Feb 6, 2008 7:52 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Required Reading for your Students

Thank you, Augie. I have spent a long time working on this and still feel I didn't get some parts quite right, but I'm glad it resonates with at least one other person, a person I respect, no less.


lisae - Feb 6, 2008 7:30 pm - Voted 10/10

Third Child?


Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Feb 6, 2008 7:46 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Third Child?

Thank you, Lisa! This wasn't exactly planned, but I guess that's life and the price we pay. So come August, this house gets even crazier!

T Sharp

T Sharp - Feb 7, 2008 1:18 am - Voted 10/10

Into the Light

Nice essay Bob! While it is nice to have the skill sets, and confidence to tackle rough terrain solo, I think you just [ever so slightly] touched on one of my favorite dividends of climbing with friends and partners, and that is a fellowship with people who "get it". I have met lots of people in climbing clubs and on the internet, and some I will never climb with again. But a few have turned into life long friends, who only enhance the experience, by casting it in more vivid light. I am hopeful, yet confident that your visit to MT this summer will result in a lasting friendship.
Cheers and Congratulations;

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Feb 7, 2008 11:01 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Into the Light

Well, Tim, you know I think you are one of those who "gets it." And I'm sure you know you are one of those unnamed members I mentioned I hope to climb with. I, too, look forward to this summer a great deal, and about the only way I can imagine our not getting along is if you beat me back to the car and raid my beer stash before I can even have a sip!

Thanks for reading and responding.



Corax - Feb 7, 2008 6:01 am - Voted 10/10

Great stuff

Very well written and many interesting passages, strung together in a nice way.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Feb 11, 2008 10:15 am - Hasn't voted

Re: OHHHH...........

There is no place like the mountains to find those things. Serenity and peace, yes, and also inspiration and rejuvenation. I always feel younger, stronger, healthier, and happier after a few days in the mountains.


jvarholak - Feb 10, 2008 8:03 pm - Voted 10/10

dead solid perfect

You always seem to be able to put into the written word what my mind thinks and my mouth struggles with. A very enjoyable, well structured, right on target read. We all are drawn to the mountains for our own reasons...finding those with similar passions and, frankly, turning others on to our motivations and learning of their's let's, me for one, know that I am certainly not "alone"...even when I am physically.....thoughts of others when I am alone on some remote, rarely trodden summit makes my experience that much more rewarding....."Bob (insert any other name) would love it here!"
Thanks for the article and hope to see you soon.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Feb 11, 2008 10:18 am - Hasn't voted

Re: dead solid perfect

Thanks, John. I'm sure you caught the reference to yourself in the first section.

It's getting close to the time that we'd better get snow soon if we're going to get any more this winter. I'd like to get out to Buck Ridge and Buck Hollow soon, but I'm hoping we'll get some of that white stuff to make the stream really pretty.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Feb 12, 2008 1:34 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice

Thanks, Fred, for both. Take care of yourself, as I understand you and Tim have to get us up Canyon Peak this summer. I am really looking forward to the trip.


radson - Feb 12, 2008 12:11 pm - Hasn't voted

Well written

I have just skimmed your article for now but will read more closely later. I can already see I like your style of writing, your candour and intelligence. Thanks for sharing.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Feb 12, 2008 1:35 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Well written

Thank you. I just hope the article lives up to your initial impression! Thanks for checking it out.

Dmitry Pruss

Dmitry Pruss - Feb 13, 2008 12:06 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice read

thanks for posting it. What do you think about this site being, primarily, a way to share your tales and pictures with your own friends and family, and only to a secondary extent a medium to share the beta with the few potentially interested strangers?

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Feb 13, 2008 2:13 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice read

Thank you. I like your idea, and have actually done that a little bit. I know another member who posts his trip reports primarily for friends and family. I think my brothers have enjoyed seeing trip reports that involved them. My mother almost fainted when she read the story about almost losing my youngest brother, though! And my wife, well, has about had it with this site!

I actually got back in touch with an old friend through this site; she Googled me and found me here and looked at many of my pictures and trip reports. And a student of mine found my pages here the same way (a good reason to watch what I say on this site).

Dmitry Pruss

Dmitry Pruss - Feb 13, 2008 2:43 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: a good reason to watch

or even when you do it. Right. I've actually been through this back when I lived in your area, and blithely used my real name online. Ended up loosing my job and immigration status, and moving to Utah, which I imagined, back then, as a parched-brown land of hillocks overrun by the armed-and-dangerous cultists-survivalists. The reality turned out to be different of course LOL; a thick silver lining in that cloud, no question.

But a decade+ later, I still keep my online identities separate. If it is a social network site using my real name and bio, then my profile there has gotta be devoid of any controversy, period.

Dmitry Pruss

Dmitry Pruss - Feb 14, 2008 11:16 am - Voted 10/10

Re: zealots of various sorts

The most dangerous sort of zealots you find of course online... the ones prepared to cross cyberspace boundaries to hammer their point!

Otherwise the major difference between a large, old cult like we have in Utah, and splintered, grassroots evangelists over on the East coast is in the level of subordination. Mormon Church cares about economy, education, tourism, all sorts of things which require a good degree of control over the extreme fringe. On the other hand, the uncontrolled fringe of more traditional Christianity on your coast may act outrageously, but their very disorganized nature limits their political power.

The worst I had with the local culture in Utah was coming under automatic gunfire in the Western Desert one Memorial Day weekend. When they ran out of ammo and I summoned enough courage to ask them not to shoot in the direction of my route, they profusely apologized. Said that they were shooting away from the TH, and the bullets whizzing above me were not from machineguns but from their kids shooting cans while the grownups were busy. The line between dangerous and weird, huh?

Hey, if you are out here, please drop in!

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Feb 15, 2008 10:16 am - Hasn't voted

Re: zealots of various sorts

Thank you for the invitation. I would like to do that. I love the Wasatch and wouldn't mind seeing a bit more of the Uintas.

My wife and I will be in Zion for three nights (March 23, 24, 25). It seems you're up in the SLC area or close to it, but if time, work schedule, and interest allow it, then keep in mind that you know someone who's planning to try a hike/scramble up one of the peaks along the East Entrance Road (maybe Checkerboard Mesa, maybe some unnamed formation) and wouldn't mind some company.

But otherwise, it's definitly in my plans to get back out to the Wasatch/Bear River Range area one of these days, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Dmitry Pruss

Dmitry Pruss - Feb 15, 2008 1:13 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Utah meet

Oh, I'd love to join for East Zion, but the timing isn't right. Flying back from Israel on the 24th and then gearing up for the annual Kings Peak tour on the 27th, can't miss that one :) So if I go anywhere that week, it's gonna be some local higher elevation stuff to remind my body that we aren't gonna be at sea level anymore :)


reinhard2 - Feb 13, 2008 1:33 pm - Voted 10/10

A thoughtful,

not-to-be-read-fast-article one would not like to miss on SP.
It's a lucky decision that you didn't withdraw from SP, which is partly shaped by articles like yours.
Congratulations and thanks for this thorough work.

Viewing: 1-20 of 48



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