How much is too much?

How much is too much?

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Mountaineering

I'm talkin' 'bout beta, friends..

I'm a beta hound. You've got some info on a peak I want to climb? Gimme.

Gimme, gimme, GIMME!

Thank you so much! Now I can definitely climb it.


Actually it was pretty easy. Thanks.


Actually, that route is overrated. It's all there. Not one of my more memorable climbs.

Been there, done that?

Have you seen this before? As either the beta hound or the beta provider? I've been both. I got to thinking about what beta means, what is the "sweet spot" of beta, and what makes a memorable trip. Finally the hoary old "why we climb" question. I'll skip all that, let me just tell the story of a very memorable trip.

Through the winter of 2001 I concieved of a project. Bold, by my humble standards: to climb the North Face of the North Peak of Mt. Index once summer rolls around! (yawn, I can hear...but to me this was Big with a capital B).

Now we had the internet back then, and I even found a web page talking about the climb...a poorly scanned photo and a truncated paragraph of text that did little to decrease the mystery. So I drove down to the Mountaineers library with a roll of quarters and xeroxed Fred Beckey's short report of the climb, along with an old article about a winter climb of the peak. Scanning these items myself, I uploaded them to a secret web page I could check in the months to follow.

Oh, how I wondered what it would be like up there. The world has moved on, and the kool kids of today would be embarrassed to thrash around on that brushy face in the summertime. But what made it so exciting was the mystery. What in god's name is up there? I knew I could expect a piton on the second pitch, somewhere above a granite escarpment with a mysterious traverse. Higher, I knew there were variations escaping from "the mid-face Bowl," and that descending the route would take as long as going up.

By the time my buddy Steve and I started up the face on a still-cool August morning, I'd been living with grainy old photos of the face for months, and had memorized Beckey's sparse prose and diagrams.

Of course we promptly got lost.

But eventually we sorted it out. We had to: it's not like anybody else was around. After a brutal day of brush and loose rock, we stood on the magical summit in the early evening, covered in scratches but awed by the totality of the experience. We were immersed.

Steve approaching the topSteve near the summit, after a long, long day.

Drowsing on a ledge for the night, we watched a truck searching for a meth lab in the forests above the Index Town Wall, and remarked on how clearly we could hear a dog barking down in the town. The next day brought outrageous heat and thirst, but also the safety of the ground and the joy of an ice-cold Coke. We were deeply satisfied with our rich and immersive experience, which exercised our imagination far more than our arms and legs. Such a workout is never forgotten.

* * *

So friends. When you have beta, give it freely. But think of the needs of the soul, as well. Would you want a GPS to guide you to preprogrammed locations in Venice, or would you rather walk those streets in the moonlight...half lost, but deeply found? Remember that the mountains are more than a maze, and we are more than mice.

Michael on topMichael on top. Very happy. Changed forever. Now I think the lack of information was just as important as the small store of information we had.


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Viewing: 1-20 of 21
[X] Bird

[X] Bird - Jul 15, 2012 7:01 pm - Voted 10/10

have not

seen such a short but sharp article in quite a while, something to ponder :)




mvs - Jul 18, 2012 2:30 am - Hasn't voted

Re: have not

Thanks Berthold, just some Friday night thoughts over a beer :).


mvs - Jul 18, 2012 2:30 am - Hasn't voted

Re: very good !

Thanks Borut, actually there is an amazing story about Beckey regarding this route, see:


gimpilator - Jul 16, 2012 12:34 pm - Voted 10/10

Good Point

"Would you want a GPS to guide you to preprogrammed locations in Venice, or would you rather walk those streets in the moonlight...half lost, but deeply found?"

I have been semi-lost in Venice at night and it was a wonderful experience bordering on spiritual, so this point sinks in deeply for me. There has been a bit of a stir behind the scenes in the Pacific NW climbing community lately. I'm wondering if your fine article was a response to this controversy?


mvs - Jul 16, 2012 1:25 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good Point

Thanks, and that is so great that you get my Venice thing...I've had that happen! My sister and I stayed there for 3 days one winter, it was amazing to go jogging through the deserted streets at night. No I didn't know about the PNW controversy, will you fill me in with a PM? :D

I do think that eventually we'll come back from climbs with such amazing virtual reality immersible pictures that we are (or will be) in danger of stealing about 30% of the fun which has to be discovery. I love writing TRs, sharing pics, etc., so I'd be as guilty of that sin as anyone. Maybe my article is a reminder to myself to watch out.


ozarkmac - Jul 16, 2012 5:11 pm - Voted 9/10

Interesting subject...

I live a long ways from the mountains and get one, maybe two trips a year to the high country. Consequently, I spend a lot of time gathering beta. And I can gather a lot of beta. I usually backpack into remote areas that offer 3rd class scrambles, so the beta not only satisfies my off-season thirst, it addresses a safety issue. Getting lost or off-route with the wife, kids and co-workers all depending upon my safe return is not my idea of adventure. Plus, I've never felt cheated or unsatisfied due to pre-climb beta over-exposure. But I can definitely understand why someone would want to know a lot less about a route than I do.


mvs - Jul 17, 2012 12:49 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Interesting subject...

Thanks for the comments, indeed, good beta is a good thing and there is nothing wrong with seeking it out. Happy scrambling!

Jukka Ahonen

Jukka Ahonen - Jul 17, 2012 5:15 am - Voted 10/10

Big issues

Thanks for the article, and even more so, thank you for the thoughts it raised.

Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis - Jul 20, 2012 4:48 pm - Voted 10/10

Beta gets too far past the Beta stage

Some folks here put a ridiculous amount of information on simple day hikes. It's all hypocrisy, though, since they end up going on adventures without doing all the research.

You struck a chord with me. Discovery is important. It creates memories. And this memory was very well written.


mvs - Jul 23, 2012 6:22 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Beta gets too far past the Beta stage

That is a good point, and I can't help but reflect on myself. Creating info pages is just plain fun, if you are in the right mood and have spare time. It's what I do if I'm too lazy to work or exercise, but not lazy enough to watch TV. I'll make all kinds of funny diagrams, which I am usually proud of. I'm not being honest if I say I made the information for others...really it's my little art project.

I guess I want to have my art project, but I also don't want to clutter up the minds of people who are hiking into some place. I guess it's an argument for privacy in an age that forgot about it. I think this is why I don't post so much anymore...part of it, certainly, is the growing awareness that what I'm doing isn't so special at all, but also I want to leave mental space for new explorers.


MoapaPk - Jul 24, 2012 11:11 am - Voted 10/10

opposing forces

SP has had an unofficial, gradually toughening standard for the format of pages. Most people who contribute information here want the information to be useful, and some are a little dismayed to think that failure to include enough photos or details could make the page seem below average, hence not worth reading.

Recently, I came across a trip report, which had garnered no votes, for a CA Sierra Peak. The report was fairly "old" and had no pictures. Yet the TR gave a good flavor of the route, and was quite informative (it now has 1 vote).

In the last few years, I've gone to often for TRs, especially in areas outside the Sierra. I like the style -- terse, describing the potential pitfalls, and with a few waypoints. The pages are not fancy, they are usually short, and are generally information-packed.


mvs - Jul 25, 2012 9:39 am - Hasn't voted

Re: opposing forces

Good point! I almost think of a natural evolution taking place, kind of a process we go through individually and as a community, away from "lead me up it" kind of beta back to a terser style. My unspoken assumption had been that verbose and picture-rich beta today is purely the result of technological change, and we'll keep moving in that direction as technology improves (Go-Pro cameras certain to be involved in the next iteration, with first-person films at all the "tricky parts").

But it's only unthinking boosterism that leads that way. The old or somehow "plain" reports stand up well by enfolding a kind of magic in their terse descriptions: desire to find out more is stoked in their reading.

I noticed the problem when I read some reports that were very picture and the end of that virtual journey my interest in visiting the region had been entirely slaked!

What a shame! :)

When I get some time I will do something about this in my own works. What will look like a removal on the surface will actually be an addition. No direct thanks will come of it, but the overall "experience points" accrued by our fellows will be higher, relieved as they will be of the burden of too much information! Thanks for your comment!

Vitaliy M.

Vitaliy M. - Jul 25, 2012 7:02 pm - Hasn't voted


Good article. I think too much beta is some times counter productive. When someone tells me that this particular pitch is tricky or involves something I do not like I would rather not lead it. When I do not get this information, I suck it up and face the challenge. Although there is some important information that should be known ("this pitch is R X" or "watch out for a solid looking death block" etc), not everything should be chewed into your mouth and fed through a straw. Climbing is about adventure, surprise, and mystery.


mvs - Jul 27, 2012 5:58 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice

Thanks, Vitaliy. Yep, I agree, it's a question of balance. Some is good, too much becomes counterproductive.


jordansahls - Jul 27, 2012 3:35 am - Hasn't voted

good points

I have often pondered the dual nature of climbing beta. For me what seems to happen is that I hear enough people talk about a route and I assume that my experience will be the same. I hear people talk about "run out" and "sparse pro". Naturally I tend to take that information and hype myself out. When I finally get around to climbing the route in question I am surprised that my experience is entirely different. Sure, it may be a difficult route (for me) and the climbing may be run out or hard to protect, but you can't substitute anecdotal information with intimate contact, especially not on rock. At least that has been my experience.


mvs - Jul 27, 2012 6:03 am - Hasn't voted

Re: good points

Exactly. And you don't want to substitute the anecdote for the real. I think the only stories that should rightfully give you pause are the ones accurately describing objective hazards. Formerly frozen gullies might be getting more dangerous in our might makes sense to cross a route off your list for such cases. But indeed, "runout" is pretty subjective. Once I climbed a pitch with two pieces of pro, feeling great. Another time I came back agog and said "you mean I was SOLOING THIS?!?" :D Have a great summer!

Silvia Mazzani

Silvia Mazzani - Jul 27, 2012 10:46 am - Voted 10/10

The culture of securisation

I think this is a terse but vivid article, touching the topic of our days: the excess of information may destroy the adventure and the pleasure of discovery. It strengthens the culture of securisation, turning the climb into an arid gymnastic activity...but don’t we fall into the opposite extreme: the culture of the risk.
I think the magic word is “equilibrium”!
Thanks for your contribute.
Silvia Mazzani


mvs - Jul 29, 2012 4:09 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: The culture of securisation

Thanks Silvia, I agree with you, it is a search for balance, both for those of us who like to write about our trips and those of us who consume the information! Thanks for reading it and I hope you are having a great summer in those beautiful Italian mountains!


JoelSkok - Aug 20, 2012 1:51 pm - Voted 10/10

I agree,

the lure of the unknown draws heavily upon the unsettled soul. Well done, takes me back....


mvs - Aug 25, 2012 1:57 am - Hasn't voted

Re: I agree,

Thanks Joel! Clearly you have traversed the mental landscape of climbing as well as the countless moraines, glaciers and ridges!

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