In some ways I feel like I should apologise for our social media feeds. I put up nice pictures of all the adventures I experience and describe them in detail, and you might feel like you have missed out on something. It is a common theme in the outdoor community and is enhanced by the ephemeral nature of what we seek. We quite like, secretly or openly, to get one up on our friends. Knowing that we have got to a climb in perfect condition, when most other people have not, is quite satisfying.
If this FOMO (fear of missing out) generates the drive to get out and have your own adventures I’m delighted. Going climbing and walking and biking (and even kayaking, although that’s not one I enjoy as much) is brilliant in so many ways. I hope to encourage people to get out and engage with our beautiful landscape. The benefits of exercise and challenge in nature to our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing are profound. And it’s a lot of fun too!
One-upmanship can be a fun game but let’s not let it get out of hand. What I don’t want to encourage is a kind of outdoor consumerism. If we start to get the idea that climbing a certain route makes you better than someone else we will start to follow the wrong path.
I have fallen into this trap before myself. Many years ago, my friend Jonny and I enjoyed soloing big ice climbs on Ben Nevis. We compared notes on climbing Point Five Gully, Zero Gully, Hadrian’s Wall Direct, all solo. It started to get competitive and we started to think about whether we could go for a grade VI and who would do it first. So I found myself standing underneath Mega Route X with every intention of climbing it but with a slightly unsettled feeling inside. The climb was in great shape and the weather was good but something wasn’t quite right.
So, I went home, without climbing the route, and I’m very happy with this decision. It became clear to me that the main reason for climbing that route was to get one up on Jonny. That’s no reason to do such a serious thing as climb vertical ice solo.
A couple of weeks later I went back up with my wife Louise and my friend Tony. We were deciding what to do when I suggested I could climb Mega Route X before doing something else. This time it felt so good to climb the route, even with Louise watching me at the bottom of the coire. We went off and did another climb together afterwards and had a lovely day. We did the climbs we wanted to do for us and for no other reason.
We praise achievement and we are right to do so. When Dave MacLeod completes another of the world’s hardest climbs we all celebrate his success. When we first climbed Everest the whole nation celebrated. Now, some people climb Everest to be able to say that they have climbed Everest thinking that this status gives them something other people don’t have. We might complete the Munro’s, or the Cuillin Traverse or climb Orion Direct and feel like this makes us better than others. This is not universal, it is only a few people but it is not healthy.
We should not collect outdoor objectives like badges we can wear on our sleeves. We should not do things so that we can say we have done them with the intention of making our audience feel small.
The challenge is ours and ours alone. It is so hard to do but we should not measure ourselves up with other people. We should push ourselves to new things, new places and new adventures for the experience it gives us. Let’s share our experiences to encourage others to have their own adventures but the reward is entirely personal. It’s about the struggle, the escape from everyday life, the sense of perspective, the focus on what actually matters right here, right now. It’s not actually about what you do at all.
Doing great things in the outdoors does not make us better than anyone else but it might just make us better people.
So I hope we inspire action and not envy, that people get out and have adventures of their own instead of feeling that they are missing out. Don’t read it and think about what I have been up to. Read it and think about what you can get up to.
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.