I’ve recently been on a kick of watching rock climbing documentaries. (Of course that included ‘Free Solo’, which I may comment on later.) One of them was one I had seen a few years ago called ‘Valley Uprising’ which was about the history of rock climbing in Yosemite going back to the early 50’s.
The movie spends a fair amount of time on the culture of rock climbing throughout its history and the rebellious nature of much of it. Much of the movie it glorifies it.
As Catholics, we need to be careful when it comes to counter-cultural things. Our faith is *VERY* counter-cultural, even when most people in the culture are Catholic. Even when most people embrace the basic principles of Christ, His radical call of living a self-less lifestyle will always elude most people. The human condition just has too much pride; too much selfishness for everyone in any society to embrace Christ’s call in its fullness.
So we’d better be careful before we write off a counter-cultural movement.
The general ethos of the rock climbing community, particularly of the historical elite climbers (i.e. before corporate sponsorship made it so the elite could squeak out a living that way), is one of poverty for the sake of rock climbing. They’d live on very little and camp right by the rocks.
But yet again, we’d better be careful before we write off a movement that embraces intentional poverty… there are plenty of those within the Church.
But yet I couldn’t escape a feeling of disdain for their overall lifestyle choices and the glorification of those choices in the documentary. And I think it came down to the debt they refused to admit they had…
All of us have life because our parents and their parents and their parents before them, made the sacrifice to be parents. All of the conveniences we have, everything from roads to safe drinking water to metals to computers, are the result of the innovation of past generations. We benefits greatly from the past sacrifices of others.
I think we all have a responsibility to contribute to that on-going development of humanity. We have a debt that needs to be paid if we can feel justified in taking advantage of all that led to us.
It doesn’t have to be parenthood, although I think it is a very good way. It just has to be the pursuit of some human excellence for self-less reasons. It can even be something that you fail at, as long as the goal was to in some way contribute to the opus of what we have all been given.
And I just don’t see that in much of the glorification of obsessive and life long pursuit of excellence in some hobby… at least not as it plays out in our current era. I think there are many hobbies that contribute to the world. I’d even argue that rock climbing could be one of them. But the key to me is why is one doing it. Is one doing it so that the hobby can be a way for more people to enjoy God’s creation? Or are they doing it as thrill seekers or for fame and glory?
In fairness, I think the answer varies from person to person. I’m tempted to believe in the noble pursuits of John Salathe, Royal Robbins, John Bachar, Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold. It seems to me they saw something noble in rock climbing and desired to perfect it for the overall good of the world. (But in fairness, I don’t know any of these people outside of a handful of documentaries and a few dozen articles, so I could be overly charitable to some or all of them).
In contrast, I can’t see anything noble in Dean Potter, Warren Harding or Jim Bridwell. Although, just as much as I must admit I don’t know those I admire well enough to properly judge, I could just as easily be being too quick to condemn the above people.
But taking a step back from the actual people to the conceptual, it seems there are two groups: Those who are climbing to walk away from any sense of the greater good and are doing so for personal and selfish reasons. And right beside them are people, perhaps living very similar lives, who are there for the pursuit of something noble and good.
And my hope for the climbing community is that they could see the difference (and if this documentary accurately portrays things, I don’t think they currently do). That they could see the difference between someone who is a leach, that has no sense of the great gift of life they have been given and a responsibility to give something back, and someone who climbs with a profound sense of the wonderful creation they have been given and their responsibility to give something back to it.