Quick time

Posted by Ken Campbell May 15, 2011 0 Comment 805 views

There’s an article in the latest National Geographic about climbing in Yosemite, and part of it deals with the difference between the way that climbing is now and what it was back in the early days in the park. During the 50’s and 60’s, the dinosaur days of big wall climbing, it might take days, even weeks, to put up a route that is now done in mere hours. Some of the recent times are truly mind-boggling: The Nose in 2 hours, 36 minutes, for example.
“Speed has become the creed of the new uberclimbers,” in the words of author, Mark Jenkins. The routes have been there for years, most of them, so every piece of the way is well-known. The question that climbers of an earlier era would often ask, whether a particular route would “go,” would be actually climbable, is a question few of today’s rock stars ever experience. “Climbing in the 70’s was about adventure as much as athletics,” the article goes on. Now, however, “speed rather than exploration has become a key measure of a climber’s craft.”
Take a moment and let that soak in. I have several reactions to this line of thought. Mostly, although I am not opposed to speed per se, if it’s all just about going faster, it loses something for me. And the fact that I have trouble explaining exactly why this is bothers me. I should be able to better articulate my thoughts and beliefs; otherwise, why have them?
I should be able to explain why these “sports,” are not really sports at all. That climbing, kayaking, skiing and surfing are examples of things that we can do to make ourselves more alive, that actually give us a heightened sense of connection with our environment. All kinds of environments. Hiking, snowshoeing, canoeing. Whatever. Moving through nature is what we were designed to do and yet so few of us ever really do it. I should be able to explain that it is the journey that is important, and that just making the journey shorter and shorter isn’t going to make it a better experience. Quite the opposite. I should be able to lay out the spiritual benefits of outdoor adventure, and why I think that the emphasis on speed – among other things – takes away from those benefits.
I don’t know any of the climbers that are profiled in the article, but I’ll bet they are not as one-dimensional as all that. It’s just my hunch, I guess, that there is a lot more to the art of vertical ascent than any article is going to be able to fully explain. I would also guess that there is still an element of wonder for each of these climbers in what they do, that there is still adventure in it.
If there’s not, then I don’t know why anyone would want to do it.

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