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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pookster1127 - Feb 11, 2013 3:19 pm - Voted 10/10

Like a first ascent

In my short career I have found that a rock line is so much tougher on-sight. Anything one does is easier the second and third successful attempt. The only thing I really want to know in advance is where the rap stations are. Getting down is more important than up.

I always imagine that I have the same chance as the person that put up the FA. You only get that opportunity once. Why spoil it?

It would seem that mountains are the same. On my first mountaineering outing we really struggled on our approach hike because of five feet of snow covering the trails. The Olympic National Park does not blaze their trails, as is typical in the mountains of the east. It was the first time I had been west of the Mississippi River. I thought I was good at a map and compass skills, so I was better off for the near failure. I do not how I would have felt if we could not summit because we were not skilled enough to keep our trail itenerary. Probably p%ss#d.

On summit day, I was a little disappointed to follow a dozen earlier season tracks to my first alpine ascent. In retrospect, I may have run out of daylight without the beta, since the terrain is complex and the bergschrunds around Mount Olympus are daunting. So I may have missed the summit, that day and the next planned "spare" day. But, alas I will never know.

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