In Defense of Our Beloved Hobby

In Defense of Our Beloved Hobby

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Mountaineering

In defense of our beloved hobby.

I have not read a great deal of mountaineering literature (I am only twenty-five), but I have read a decent amount for my age and experience. Continuously, I find that authors cave to the common stereotype that mountaineering/alpinism is inherently selfish. Many works claim that mountaineering is selfish because it serves to satisfy our egos, or our alpha male (or female) mentality. When a family person takes part in mountaineering he or she doesn’t take into account the feelings of their family and the responsibility of being a mother/father. In my experience, the opposite is true.

The purpose of this article is to argue against this common stereotype. Since I am young and of limited experience, this article is based on my limited experience. For the reader to understand my position the reader must be aware of my background. I am a soldier. No, I am not bragging, and this article will defend pursuit of our beloved hobby regardless of one’s occupation, but one must understand how I came to my position.

I am a student pilot, training to fly Army helicopters. Flying helicopters is insanely risky, it is truly amazing how fast you can kill yourself (and others) in an army helicopters if you do not know what your are doing. One can quite easily kill one’s self and others quite rapidly, long before bullets and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) are flying towards the aircraft if one does not start the aircraft properly. Now what does this have to do with alpinism, and what could this possibly have to do with you the reader, most likely a civilian?

Very simple. Flying helicopters and staying alive requires three things: endurance, situational awareness, and risk management. In short, the same things that keep you alive while climbing the side of a remote peak will keep you alive in a helicopter. “But Matt, I don’t fly helicopters, why don’t you put down your beer and stop writing about silly things!” Guess what ladies and gentleman, endurance, situational awareness, and risk management will keep you alive in real life too!!!

Everyone harps on us climbers for being selfish, not caring about our families, and living in a egotistical dream world. As in most situations when I am accused, I counter-accuse with this statement: “What are you doing to maintain your senses and skills of self preservation?”

Most people will reply with a “huh?” and a brain restart. Smile snugly, because in the world today most people do absolutely nothing to maintain these basic skills that even Cromagnons had during the ancient times. Situational awareness, endurance, and risk management skills are all perishable. The average person does not even realize the dire straits their skills are in until it is to late.

Mountaineering and alpinism, although inherently risky, help to maintain a sharp tip on the edge of each of these skills. Nowhere else will situational awareness be so critical, nowhere else will endurance be so essential, and nowhere else is risk management so crucial. They say we risk our lives needlessly, I say we are training ourselves to reduce risk in everyday situations.

To drive my point home, consider the person who avoids risks at all costs, and find himself/herself in a situation where he/she is out of his element with his/her family (I do not need to be specific here), and realizes he/she has crossed into territory for which he/she is unprepared, and it costs him/her the well being of those he loves. What has he/she achieved by avoiding all risky situations? He/she as achieved the inability to endure, analyze, and manage risky situations. That, my friends, is the result of true selfishness.

The author has such an opinion due to the realization that these skills are going to give him the greatest chance of survival in combat, and in other dangerous situations in life.

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Viewing: 1-20 of 25

poorboy44 - Oct 2, 2006 7:53 pm - Hasn't voted


You should move this to a Forum will spur some healthy debate.


avidwanderer - Oct 3, 2006 12:35 am - Hasn't voted

Re: suggestion

How do I do that???


poorboy44 - Oct 3, 2006 9:57 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: suggestion

Cut and paste this into a Forum thread.


avidwanderer - Oct 8, 2006 6:52 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: suggestion

I am concerned about the can of worms it will open... I don't want to get involved :-D


jordansahls - Oct 2, 2006 8:32 pm - Voted 9/10


I think you have hit a point, but when and where does "risk" management become self-fulfilling? I think that there is a fine line, and often times its boundaries are blurred. This makes it hard to define and justify, but I see your point. Very Interesting.


avidwanderer - Oct 3, 2006 12:39 am - Hasn't voted

self fulfilling

I won't deny climbing is self-fulfilling, anything that one does to enhance skills to survive will be self-fulfilling. It is a by-product of making yourself more self sufficient.


arturf - Oct 7, 2006 1:43 pm - Voted 10/10

Well done!

Great article! Not just about mountaineering, but the basics of "how to become self-confident" manual (in good meaning). Well done, man!


avidwanderer - Oct 8, 2006 11:05 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Well done!

Thanks man, be safe!


MichaelJ - Oct 7, 2006 7:31 pm - Hasn't voted

What does being 25 have to do with not reading much?

I have to say I find your justification for alpinism really fatuous. You start by stating that the sport isn’t selfish, then defend it by saying that it teaches survival skills that are valuable in the non-vertical world. This is still selfish. The rap against danger-courting sports is not that the participant is endangering himself so much as the pain and suffering his or her loss will inflict on his or her loved ones. This issue, the crux of the problem if you will, is something you completely elide. Since you start by confessing your ignorance of the topic at hand, I’d suggest reading more deeply on the subject and more importantly thinking through the consequences of high-risk climbing on those left behind. A couple of authors who have actually deeply pondered this problem are Maria Coffey (Where the Mountain Casts its Shadow) and David Roberts (On the Ridge Between Life and Death). I don’t mean to be overly harsh and I don’t apologize for my own selfish pursuits but specious self-denials such as yours only muddle the issue. If the mountains teach anything, it’s the necessity for clear thinking.


avidwanderer - Oct 8, 2006 6:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: What does being 25 have to do with not reading much?

When I said I haven't read much, I was trying to be modest... apparently I passed myself off as an ignorant 25 year old who doesn't read much. Well, I do read quite a bit, but since I have only been alive for twenty five years I haven't read as much as someone who is 40 or so.

As for the article, I guess this article applies more to those whose job requires constant environmental awareness and attention to detail to stay alive, and not those who have safer more civil jobs.

In my career field if I allow my environmental awareness and attention to detail atrophy during the periods I am not in danger, these skills will not be there when I need them later.

For me, not doing something to keep these abilities sharp would be irresponsible. To broaden the picture a little, this irresponsiblity would not just affect my family and me, but my passengers and their families as well.

But don't worry, Im still impressed with your vocabulary.

Desert Solitaire

Desert Solitaire - Oct 11, 2006 4:50 am - Hasn't voted

Re: What does being 25 have to do with not reading much?

i'll second michael's comments.

the author needs to be more reflective on the nature of exactly why individuals continue to practice high-risk activities. it's fallacious to claim that the reason individuals confront death in the face is to "give him the greatest chance of survival in combat, and in other dangerous situations in life."

the issue of personal loss and the consequences of death due to climbing are completely circumvented. in trying to argue that climbing makes one more successful in surviving, how would the author reason with the reality that many climbers, skilled or not, die every year. the real threat in our everyday lives, believe it or not, is NOT the threat of dying in combat - we do not share the same environment of evolutionary adaptation as our ancestors did thousands of years ago.

still, however, i think we should respect the author's background as a military personnel and that the views he espouses are perhaps a reflection of his unique experiences that most civilians never encounter in their lives. it would be fair to say, that the article says more about why the author climbs rather than why we all climb, and i don't see anything wrong with that.


Charles - Oct 8, 2006 4:29 pm - Voted 10/10


Well done Matt!An interesting article and food for thought. I agree that being at "ease" and knowing risk is important.


avidwanderer - Oct 8, 2006 6:51 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Interesting

Thanks charles!

Dan the Jones

Dan the Jones - Oct 8, 2006 4:43 pm - Voted 10/10

Risk Confronting

I think that the mountains teach us to analize the risk that we can perceive and also include the risks that we can't immediatly see. This skill carries on to every other aspect of life. Great write up


avidwanderer - Oct 8, 2006 7:21 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Risk Confronting


Ski Mountaineer

Ski Mountaineer - Oct 8, 2006 8:48 pm - Hasn't voted

Just out of curiousity...

...did you ever loose a friend in the mountains or see a partner fall?



avidwanderer - Oct 8, 2006 9:38 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Just out of curiousity...

Just out of curiousity, is this a loaded question?


Ski Mountaineer

Ski Mountaineer - Feb 10, 2007 6:32 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Just out of curiousity...


I fully respect your point of view and agree to the point that what you have written is true for medium-risk acitivities. I also see that you need a good dose of risk management skills for your job (I would not have the guts), so for your personal level all you said is certainly true.

But this collective attempt by the climbing community to justify high-risk climbing is in my opinion a pure look through rose-coloured glasses. We can find this and that explaination to make climbing in our minds a rational thing.

Climbing – I am not talking about hiking – IS a pure selfish and egotistical thing, but I must also stress that I think that only a person who is personally satisfied can be a good contribution to society, his family and a relationship.
Enjoying the outdoors, finding some balance there, moutain biking, skiing, hiking, people getting together to be out, staying healthy and fit etc. are all things I enjoy and I think everybody should enjoy.

But climbing hard alpine routes, skiing steep faces or climbing hard high-altitude peaks is a different story. These are goal-related, high-risk activities, and I personally have stopped to justify these activities to my family and girl friend. They all respect it, and that is all I can ask for – but I do carry a heavy responsibility, that is, my life.
When I mess up and bring much grieve over my family, saying “he died while doing what he loved” will be of little meaning then. I do these all these things too but I do not justify them.

I learned a lot during my climbs and journeys but this is one side of the story – the other is that I celebrated additional birthdays more than twice so far and and it could all have ended very differently. Standing at the grave of my climbing partner last summer and two other climbers I knew and that inspired me dying in 2005 plus seeing anotther parnter fall caused me to think “what the hell are we all doing?”

Yes, indeed, I learned skills and different things during climbing I could use in daily life, no questions, but I could have learned these things also through less dangerous things and other sports, and justifying my activities out there with skill-learning sounds lame (even to me) given the high price I and those around me could have to pay.

For myself, I question things each year more, and I think I will stop in three years the latest. The question “is it worth it?” becomes harder to answer each year and I discovered the joy of other things in life. The saying from the paragliding community – “there are wild and old paragilders” says it all.

That many people do not understand why we put ourselves at risk has a good reason. If we try to find these reasons in their ignorance, lack of vision or whatever we are ignorant ourselves.

The industry helps us to negate the irrational aspects of high-risk activities by making things cool - or worse – "normal", or explaning them with the “flow”, “spirit” or other nonesense (these are things have to find ourselves and that should not be served to us in pre-made over the media), and climbing still has this pseudo-heroic character to it; and I have to admit - I fully participate.

On purpose this was a bit over the top and quite specific for the high-risk takers among us, but I guess you get my point.

Keep climbing, and be safe!

Brian Massey

Brian Massey - Oct 10, 2006 4:46 pm - Hasn't voted

Apples and Oranges

Good thoughts in your article. However, I think that one truly vital point is missing. I don't know about you... but I climb mountains because it is my passion. I do it because I love it. I feel alive when I am in the mountains, working with a partner to accomplish a given task. I do not climb in order to "maintain my senses and skills of preservation." This comes as product of spending time in the mountains or other risky environments such as war or inside a buring building. We develop these senses and preservation skills through our experiences in these environments when our senses are heightened and a lack of them would mean the end to our own existence.
For you to "defend our beloved hobby" seems to me to be defending something that doesn't need defending. Whether selfish or not, I climb because I am passionate about it... not in order to cultivate greater self preservation mechanisms. These come as a product of this passion.


alpinebunny - Oct 12, 2006 7:53 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Apples and Oranges

here here....I agree! It is my passion as well. When I climb it makes me smile, and feel all “goofy” inside, almost like blushing, my cheeks burn, my heart soars, and I feel unbroken, stronger. Sometimes I cry at the top of a mountain or climb (ok, call me a girl if you must) from shear emotion bursting from my core. I can’t contain it. I think about climbing more than I think about s*x. Obsession, passion, call it what you will. I am selfish because I want to feel this great and wonderful emotion as often as I can. I don’t feel the need to defend that. It is only the ones who don’t share our passions that ask us why, and to defend our decisions.

Avidwanderer, I wonder, with all your heightened you see the magnificent beauty that surrounds you when you climb? Do you let it permeate your soul?

“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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